Here's an idea/legend/adventure thread to get your players in the mood for Rogue Trader 2009...
The Halo Stars have obsessed travellers, rogue traders and sages for thousands of years. A vast and largely unexplored region of space, the region is rumoured to contain lost human civilisations ready for exploitation, archeotech beyond the dreams of the most avaricious Adeptus Mechanicus Arch-Magi, and alien empires of great antiquity and sufficient natural resources to make a man as rich as a Sector Governor.
This reputation for exotic treasure sends thousands of souls into the region every year in a variety of craft. Few return. Despite the improbability of successful explorers returning without having fully exploited discovered treasure themselves, certain treasure stories have gained a certain....respectability would be the wrong word, notoriety a better word, but credibility is probably stretching the point...Perhaps momentum is a better term to describe the way in which a handful of tall tales have spread throughout the Calixis sector, and entranced legions of gold diggers to seek their fortune amongst the cold stars.
Historically and critically minded individuals view these Halo Stars legends with suspicion, regarding them (if they take the time to consider them at all) as lures for the gullible, set in place by unscrupulous investors and, in some cases, pirates, hoping to prey on those foolish enough to stake their lives on a third hand wild conjecture whispered in an orbital bar on the edge of the Imperium. But others, with the time and resources to research these myths often find bizarre indications that they are not all the fever dreams of pirates and warp-maddened rogue traders...
One of the most commonly repeated legend is the story of Ryman's Xenos...
Hespellizah Ryman was a notorious rogue trader who rose to prominence in the century following the ending of the Macharian Crusades. From the distaff line of a former ruler of the Hive world of Canopus, Ryman was infamous for his wealth, ambition, libido and loyalty to the Imperium. He managed to walk the tricky tightrope between the acquaition of wealth via interstellar trade and maintaining good relations with the major Imperial power blocs. A shameless self-publicist, rogue and racketeer, his career peaked in 570 M41 when he took his flagship into battle alongside his contempary and friend Kobras Aquairre in order to crush the infamous Cabal of the White Sorrows. He survived the battle as one of the most senior free captains present, and successfully pursued actions in the Chancellary Court for salvage of many vessels damaged in the struggle. After a long period of restful litigation and refitting, he took his newly installed twelve-ship-strong fleet to the edge of the Halo Stars in 585...and vanished.
All of this is a matter of historical record, and indeed is just within the living memory of the oldest and most heavily rejuvenated of the Calixis sector's ruling elite. However, information as to what Ryman did next is based solely upon a single document: the logbook of the smallest vessel in his fleet, the Avid.
The Avid, a light clipper vessel only just capable of warp travel, dropped out of the Aether in 637 M41 just rimward of the world of Faldon Kise. It was only discovered when the inhabitants of that rough, primitive world, communicated its existence to a passing Battlefleet Calixis squadron, which prompted a boarding action of the drifting vessel.
The Avid was totally deserted, a floating hulk without power or crew. Quite how it had made a warp jump without even residual power was unknown. The Imperial Navy, after thoroughly searching the ship inspected the data-log of the vessel. The precise details of what was discovered remain a mystery: the log was rapidly sealed by the Ordo Xenos, but the story still leaked out from Naval boarders who claimed to have read the log. Spreading like wildfire and no doubt embellished in the telling their story - as whispered in a thousand below-decks drinking dens across the sector - is as follows...
The Avid's log revealed that, after gathering his fleet together and arranging a warp-translation point among the Halo Stars and well beyond the bounds of the Imperium, Ryman called his captains to his flagship and boasted that during the boarding action against the corsair flagship the Altar of Torment , he had somehow obtained a chart which pointed the way to the realm of a race of xenos undiscovered by Imperial forces. He proposed a traditional Xenocide campaign against this unknown race, during which they would be purged of life and relieved of their advanced technology, which he then intended to sell at vast expense to the Adeptus Mechanicus, and share out the proceeds amongst the assembled captains. The legend then goes into tedious detail about the celebrations amongst the crews upon hearing this news, and maddeningly omits precise details as to how long they subsequently travelled, in which direction and for precisely how long.
It is said that eventually the fleet of 12 warp capable vessels entered the region of space suggested by Ryman's chart, only to discover an utterly baffling location that was, in effect, a huge junkyard the size of 40 solar systems. This anomalous region appeared to consist of the remains of the remains of tens of thousands of vast spacecraft. Some versions of the legend say that the "junk cloud" was the remains of a vast Pre-Imperial battle between unknown xenos races, others that a huge mechanical world many times the size of any habitable planet had somehow disintegrated. There were no signs of the planetary systems promised by Ryman's chart, but he was still delighted with his find, imagining it as of vast interest to Xenologists and Tech Priests.
But then the first signals started to appear.
The story then goes that in the spinning cloud of junk, simple radio signals were being broadcast, which were rapidly detected by Ryman's fleet. They investigated, and discovered a number of small metallic "pods" of uniform design floating free amongst the junkyard. Speculating that these were perhaps lifeboats dropped by the vessels destroyed in whatever cataclysm had created the "junk zone," Ryman ordered them brought aboard his flagship for closer examination.
It is traditional for the storyteller to then lower his voice, pull a sinister face, and say "this decision was the doom of Hespellizah Ryman..."
Immediately upon being drawn within the vessel, the "lifeboat" sprang to life itself, and began to send out hundreds of metallic tentacles which started stripping Ryman's flagship of electronic components, rare metals and base ores. Crewmen who attempted to stop it were blasted with strange heat rays of unusual design which melted iron like butter and instantly vapoupized human flesh. The "lifeboat" drew these components to itself, rapidly and mysteriously incorporating them within its structure, and increasing size all the while.
Ryman ordered the docking bay purged, but by now the "lifeboat" had filled the entire bay, attached itself like a limpet and was increasing in size until it squatted like a bloated carbuncle on the side of the flagship. Within minutes the thing had diverted all of the ship's power to itself and increased in mass by a factor of ten thousand percent, all of which was based upon material torn from Ryman's own ship. Thousands of metal tentacles ploughed through the vessel, snatching equipment and forcing hatches open. Hundreds, thousands of crewmen died as bulkheads were pried open and exposed to the cold vacuum of space. His fleet watched in horror as the last signals from their flagship died, with crewmen screaming about trying to hold out in the last corners of the ship, and trying to get to the liferafts, and trying to save the captain, who was never heard from again.
But (as the tale traditionally requires the teller to now sonorously intone) worse was to come. As the last signals from the flagship died, and as the surrounding ships watched awestruck through the field of spinning mechanical debris, the ship itself began to reform itself into a vast and glittering...thing. All versions of the legend tell of how the flagship became within scant minutes a huge oviod mass covered in newly formed glowing electrical lights and flowing with metal tentacles. Like some deep sea glowjelly, but scaled in kilometres, not metres, and formed of metal and steel, not organic matter, the thing turned upon the fleet and suddenly spewed hundreds of new "lifeboats" at them. Of exactly the same design as the one which had doomed Ryman, they tore like rockets towards the horrified assembled rogue trader vessels.
Needless to say, the story goes on to describe how the fleet scattered. There are drawn out details of combat (all of which end in the destruction of the human vessels) and stories of horrified flight, fear, terror... The story ands with the Avid drifting without power, and forced to make a last desperate jump through the warp in a lst effort to reach home...
And thus ends the legend. But the story of the spread of the legend and its impact upon the Calixis sector does not end there.
Officially, it is regarded as nonsense. Administratum scribes point to the lack of any genuine paperwork completed by Ryman which would substantiate that he intended to embark upon a xenocide campaign, though others counter that a man like Ryman was hardly the sort to fill out paperwork in advance of doing anything. Other critics of the tale point to the relative inactivity of the Imperium at the time this story began to spread - others argue that in a galaxy with a hundred thousand real threats, why should the powers that be go looking for legendary ones?
Those more familiar with the inner workings of the Imperium detect all the signs of an Inquisitorial cover up. Why would a fleet consisting of tens of thousands be allowed to simply vanish without any investigation? Or has an investigation taken place, and have worrying conclusions been drawn? The region around Faldon Kise is unusually well patrolled by Battlefleet Calixis for a simple frontier world...perhaps they are stationed there to protect from something within the Halo Stars?
Others have drawn disturbing parallels between the story of Ryman's death and an ancient Eldar legend which speaks of the "glittering host," a semi-legendary species of star-beings who were "shaped of silver" and who, while showing no interest at all in the wraithbone constructs of that fickle race, "craved steel above all else." Xenologists permitted to speculate in private on the legend agree that it is possible that xeno races may exist which transcend traditional biological processes and which are entirely mechanical in nature. Techpriests become excited at the mention of the legend, and have scoured the Halo Stars for the legendary "ship's graveyard" which gave birth to Ryman's bizarre machanical creature.
Finally, some historians familiar with Ryamn's personality have declared the whole thing an elaborate practical joke, the act of a mendacious rogue having his last laugh at the universe's expense. They declare that Ryman probably headed straight to some uncharted paradise world and retired in opulent luxury to live out his last days.
The story has spread throughout the entire sector, and improves in the telling every time. It has led to dozens of lost expeditions, and is likely to continue to do so....