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Cynical Cat

Inherit the Stars

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Rain struck the flakboard roof and slid down the sides of the prefabricated dwelling. It was an ugly square structure, huddled near the center of the armed camp, but it provided protection from shrapnel and most small arms fire. This far from the front neither was much of a danger.

Inside a single light burned. It was an ancient black iron lamp than ran on whatever fuel was available, in this case promethium. It was an ugly, ancient thing, dented and battered from centuries of use. It stood on a simple fold out table that was currently being used as a desk. A fold out cogitator in a black armoured case, glass of wine, and a chromed Helixal Armswerks Imperata-IX heavy pistol were also on the table.

Lord General Militant Gregor Mustarios put down the meal tray he had been eating from and stopped the reports scrolling down the screen in phosphorescent green letters. Mustarios was a tall, handsome man whom juvenat technologies had frozen in appearance at his late forties. He kept his black hair short and neat, along with his mustache. He had a fine aquiline nose that gave him the aspect of a hawk, which was a minor vanity that he maintained. His uniform was black and comparatively unadorned.

Mustarios touched a rune key and scrolled back. The report was vague. It could be nothing out or the ordinary or a sign of psychic activity. It was not the first sign either. The enemy typically were subtle in their use of witch craft influencing weather, luck, and morale in ways that were often unnoticed and devastating. He bent over to pick up the vox handset by his chair and send orders for Sanctioned personnel to investigate.

"Please take your hand away from the vox, Lord Militant," said a soft voice, very close behind him. Mustarios froze.

"My men-"

"-have been dealt with. They will recover in time. Please do not make any moves. My weapon is completely silent, but I have a message I must convey."


"Let us say there are those that would prefer that he ascend to high office. Your service to the Imperium has been great, but it comes to an end."

"He's not even on his deathbed yet and your masters are already murdering to secure the succession."

"Morality is not my purview. Only duty. You should have taken the offer."

"Well, at least now I know who sent you."

"Then you know more than I. Only your death is required. Your family will not be harmed."

Mustarios's hand shot forward and grabbed the handle of his pistol. There was a sound like a soft cough and blood splattered the cogitator's keys. Mustarios's body slumped over the table and began to cool.

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Hey Ive read this on another starship board already... You writing was quite good. This is probably a better board to get your fan fiction appreciated.

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heh, cynical cat is a quite well known writer on the black library what better place for fan-fiction then there!


Nicely written btw,

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The funeral procession consisted of nearly a thousand people, all wearing the white accented black that was the traditional funerary garments of House Mustarios. The gowns were cut in layers to resemble tatters or perhaps feathers, and swept passed the ankle to drag on the pavement. The mourners wore elaborate headdresses with black plumes or great helmet-like masks in the shape of the heads of dark birds. Exposed faces were painted with a white cosmetic mixed with ash. The lips and the skin around the eyes were painted jet black and ebon tears marked their cheeks.

Two hundred household armsmen walked in the procession, armed with ebon laspikes and garbed in ornate black plate. Cherubs and cyberskulls floated above the procession. The only splash of colour was the sarcophagus, ivory with gold scrollwork and inscriptions. It was fit for a conqueror or a king and it was almost worthy of Gregor Mustarios.

The procession winded beneath the spires of the ancient city, one that had been destroyed and rebuilt more times than almost anyone knew like all the great and old cities of Ancient Terra. A billion people watched from the sidewalks and the overpasses and the spire towers. Some threw origami birds into the air, inscribed with prayers of the swift passage of the great man's soul to the Emperor's side. Others held religious icons or banners and others simply watched respectfully as the mourners walked kilometer after kilometer.

The sun began to sink through the sky when the procession passed under a great overpass bridge from which dangled a two hundred foot banner of depicting crossed swords under a blue-white star, the symbol of the Mustarios. Ahead of lay a wall of buildings that clung to the edge of the cliff. Below was the dry basin of what had once been the mighty Pacific and was now yet more hives holding teaming humanity. Their destination beckoned.

It was a great white palace, flanked by two fire belching towers. Two sentinels, clad head to toe in flowing white and wearing blank face masks, guarded the great ebon doors. They bowed low to the approaching mourners. Inside The House of Final Repose lay the funerary-priests who would load the sarcophagus into the furnace and render all to ash and slag. Terra teemed with the living and although the Mustarios had the wealth to do so, they did not intern their dead. By ancient custom the gold that went into the sarcophagus would go to a fund that provided scholarships and apprenticeships for the poor. By equally ancient custom, The House of Final Repose would donate its customary fee to the same.

The black gates opened, revealing white-robed funerary priests. They took the sarcophagus from the hands of the mourners and retreated into The House of Final Repose. The black gates slammed shut.

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Captain Harlock said:

Hey Ive read this on another starship board already... You writing was quite good. This is probably a better board to get your fan fiction appreciated.


Do you mean here ?


Where it looks word for word identical, but is several chapters further along and posted by someone with a different name.

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Bilateralrope said:

Captain Harlock said:


Hey Ive read this on another starship board already... You writing was quite good. This is probably a better board to get your fan fiction appreciated.




Do you mean here ?


Where it looks word for word identical, but is several chapters further along and posted by someone with a different name.

I think its the same individual- different psedonym

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We are the same people.  I use Cynical Cat as my name on most boards, but joined before I had adopted that name.  If you'll check my signature, there's a link to Librium Arcana, which isn't exactly a huge board, where there I also go by Cynical Cat and post my stories,  I do appreciate the vigilance on my behalf.

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Maria Igalia Mustarios stood like a statue in her mirror walled dressing room as a pair of maid's removed the raven mask from her head and put it gently put it on a stand. Another maid removed her gloves and carefully put them in a box. Her cloak and elaborate gown were next, followed by her shoes. Soft clothes dabbed at her face, removing make up that had taken more than an hour to apply.

In the end she was nude, except for her underwear. "The uniform, informal," she said softly. Her maids slid open a mirrored door and brought out a suit of midnight blue fabric that shown like silk. Crimson shoulder boards and a moderate amount of gold braid and flashes adorned the uniform. Her maids produced gleaming black boots and a cosmetics kit and went swiftly and surely went to work.

A stern, yet beautiful woman stared back at her in the mirror. He short black hair was combed back and dark, piercing eyes looked out from a pale skinned face with perfect features. She seemed ageless and eternal, like a warrior angel sent by the Emperor to destroy his foes. Perfect.

She left her dressing room and passed through halls with rich wood paneling guarded by men in midnight black carapace armour with very functional matte black hellguns in their arms. Oak double doors swung inward at her approach and then closed behind her. The men and women gathered around the table rose and bowed to her. She had eyes only for one.

Throne, he was still so young. He was barely older than twenty and handsome, so much like his father. She wanted to hold him and shield him from the worst that the galaxy had to offer, but it was too late for that. He was a man now and heir to his father's house. She sat down at the head of the table and met her son's gaze before casting her eyes over the rest of the her retainers.

The venerable Janos Peteros raised his hand to the orb standing in the middle of the table and it glowed white. His bald head peeked out from beneath heavy fur robes. Rejuvenat technologies had kept Peteros alive for five hundred years, but he was slender and increasingly frail. He had, at most, a few decades left. His mind was still strong and his loyalty fierce and unshakable. "Full intrusion countermeasures have been invoked my lady. No one will be able to hear what occurs inside this room."

"Colonel," she said, "permission is denied." The mustachioed chief of her husband's life guards bowed stiffly. He was a proud man, clever and experienced and deadly with every weapon ranging from his bare hands to chain axes and missile launchers and she needed him. The request for permission to commit suicide was traditional among failed commanders of the life guard and a refusal was the most common answer. "We all know it was not heretics that killed my husband."

"The question," said her son, "is what do we do now?" All eyes turned to him. "We all know that the Inquisition had my father killed, but there is no proof that his killer was a Shrine Assassin."

"Indeed, young master," said Peteros. "In any event, this house cannot survive a war against the Inquisition. We do not even know which faction was responsible for ordering our lord's murder."

"Faction?" said Sybel Dawning. The young woman was dressed, as usual, in unrelieved black. Her olive coloured skin and dark hair helped her blend into shadow and almost vanish when she reclined in her chair.

"Oh yes," said Peteros. "The Inquisition goes through much trouble to provide the impression of a unified front, but internally they are riven into separate factions. Much like the rest of us."

"Opinions on our current options?" asked Maria Mustarios.

"It is clear," Janos Peteros began, "that factions within the Inquisition want to secure the election of Jerzy Ralsom's replacement to the High Lords of Terra. The failure of Ralsom's last two implant operations is well known. The man has at best a decade and a half to live and our lord, may he rest eternally by the Emperor's side, was one of the most promising candidates."

"When they failed to bribe our lord, they murdered him," said Colonel Dowell with disgust. "Because he was too successful at conquering in the name of our Emperor."

"Indeed," said Janos Peteros. "It was undoubtedly why they made the offer of a warrant first."

"Warrant?" asked Paul Mustarios. "What warrant?"

"A warrant of trade," said Janos Peteros. "A most generous grant of a ship and funding and a warrant for trading beyond the Segmentum Solar made by the High Lords of Terra. An offer, I might add, they have extended to you, supposedly in memory of your father's accomplishments."

"Our lord refused," said Dowell. "He thought he could do more good serving in the Imperial Guard. And they murdered him for it."

"How can we strike back?" asked Paul. "Our house is strong and has allies, but against the Inquisition that won't be sufficient. If we had a candidate for High Lords among our ranks we would be stronger, but we do not. Nor do we have the friends and allies that were personally loyal to my father. They won't risk fighting the Inquisition and the forces their pet candidate can bring to bear out of affection for a dead man."

Grim nods went around the table. "So," said Maria Igalia Mustarios, "we are outmatched. For now. What moves will avail us?"

"It is likely that they will let us retire from the field," said Peteros. "It would take great strength and it would cost them much good will to make war on House Mustarios. It would also require them to reveal far too much about who they are and possibly start an internal war in the Inquisition with rival factions. If we attempt to fight them, they will attempt to destroy us, in order to discourage other candidates."

"And they will likely succeed," said Maria.

"Even if they do not, the cost to this house will be very high," said Paul. "And if we bide our time, they are likely to place a pawn among the High Lords of Terra and become unassailable."

"For a time, yes," said Jonas Peteros.

"A lifetime," said Paul. "And the opportunities to strengthen themselves, unless they fall in disgrace, will be many. This is another reason why they do not want a war, they believe that they can place themselves beyond our reach."

"That is true," said Peteros."

"What are you thinking Paul?" asked his mother.

"If I accept this offer then my cousin Alexos becomes head of the Mustarios family. He is unlikely to pursue any feud."

"Paul, you can't be thinking-"

"Of accepting this warrant of trade. Yes, yes I am. I think it might be best if you were to leave Terra, perhaps return to House Igalia's holdings on Edos. See your father and your sisters again. A steward can maintain our Terran properties, at least until Alexos decides differently."

"Give up your heritage?" Maria asked. "Think Paul. The warrant is good only beyond the Segmentum Solar. You won't have power here."

"Our enemies will be watching if I try my hands at politics or military service," said Paul. "They'll either block my advances or kill me. Out there, out there in the void there is no limit to the amount of power and wealth I can obtain and I will be beyond their reach. Until I decide to return. On my terms."

"You could die out there Paul. Many do."

"I can die in this room. I can die day by day, watching and planning and doing nothing while my father's murderers increase their power and neuter this house. Or I can die doing something worthy of a Mustarios. Bring new worlds and new wealth into the Imperium while gaining strength for that day when justice can finally be done. What would my father do?"

The table was quiet. Only breathing broke the silence. Then Janos Peteros rose. "I have served this house for nearly five hundred years. It has been a honour. I would give my life for you and your mother, my lord. Of all the Mustarios line that I have trained and served, only your father was a better student. I say this: Mustarios lives in you." He slapped his palm on the table. "Hail Mustarios!"

"Hail Mustarios!" roared all the retainers. Palms slapped hard on the polished oak in a rising crescendo.

Maria rose from her chair and the pounding stopped. "Lord Mustarios has spoken. Let his will be done."


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Captain Harlock said:

Bilateralrope said:


Captain Harlock said:


Hey Ive read this on another starship board already... You writing was quite good. This is probably a better board to get your fan fiction appreciated.




Do you mean here ?


Where it looks word for word identical, but is several chapters further along and posted by someone with a different name.



I think its the same individual- different psedonym

I contacted him via pm on, he told me it is him under a different name.

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Maria gazed down from her balcony. Before her stretched the great walled garden and orchard that were worth a governor's ransom. Land was precious on Holy Terra, and the Mustarios were rich with it. The family was ancient, its titles of nobility dating back to the reconquests that followed in the wake of the Horus Heresy. Scarcely a major war or crusade went by without Mustarios involvement. Over the millenia some had been cads, some had been cowards, but most had been heroes and conquerors.

Beyond the gardens and the walls that enclosed them were the other spires of the Mustarios holdings and beyond them the great expanse of the tower-city sprawl that seemingly went on forever. Countless trillions inhabited Holy Terra and there was only so much land. From the depths of the earth to the clouds in the sky, almost every usable inch was taken. The illusion of privacy was precious, but true privacy itself was a luxury only a few could afford. If she wanted to be, Maria could have been alone.

"You wanted to speak with me mother?" Paul asked. Her son stepped out onto her balcony, into the zone protected by countless anti-scan devices and shielded by a esoteric technologies.

"Yes Paul," Maria replied. "I think your decision is hasty."

"It was," said Paul. "That doesn't mean that was wrong. They're stronger than us mother and they're willing to use that strength."

"And they've used too much of it," replied Maria. "Think Paul. This attack was upon us, but it will have been noticed by many. We can unite in a coalition backing another candidate and crush our enemy."

"No mother," said Paul. "They'll wipe us out first. If they have Shrine Assassins at their disposal, there is no one they cannot kill. We have to be seen to retire from this conflict so they will turn their attention elsewhere. In that time need to gather information and strength."

"In that time they might become assailable."

"Perhaps," said Paul, "but if they are one faction within the Inquisition, there will be others. Once we know who they are and who their enemies are we gut them from within."

"You are set on this."

"I am."

"Paul, you are young. Listen to me. I know you have your heart set on great deeds, great deeds that will prove to everyone that you are truly your father's son. With a career in the Guard blocked I know that the charter appeals to that part of you. Don't play into their hands."

"I'm well aware that this charter is a trap," said Paul. "It's intent is to send me far from the corridors of power, hopefully to perish but to isolate me even if I survive. On the other hand, vast wealth and new holdings are the bait. The Inquistion and the Adeptus Mechanicus have a great interest in what lies out there. The hook is that I could die, but the bait is what I could catch."

"You're determined to do this."

"Yes, I am mother. I would have your blessing."

She put her hands in his. "You have it my son. Now and forever."

"Thank you mother." Paul walked back inside. Maria looked down upon the garden with glistening eyes. The stars had taken her child. When he returned, if he returned, she would not know him.

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Janos Peteros unrolled the scroll and placed it on Paul's desk. The young lord's study was huge and sprawling, with walls lined with books and a raised upper level with a wall length window that was mostly taken up by the desk. The overhead lights were currently off and so light was provided by a half dozen lumen globes, hovering on suspensors. One came closer to the desk to properly illuminate the scroll.

"The terms of the warrant are most generous, as expected," said Janos Peteros. "It is a perpetual grant of the right to trade in the regions beyond the Segmentum Solar and grants the right to raise arms and ships with which to combat the enemies of the Emperor. There are no provisions for tithes or renewals and the a grant of nobility and rank "commensurate with the forces at his command" will allow you and any successors to deal with Imperial forces from a position of both strength and security. There is also a one time funding grant of considerable value attached."

"Yes," said Paul. "The bait is sufficient to make me bite. I need to avoid the hook."

"Ah," said Peteros, "that is where you are mistaken young master. There is more than one hook."

"Please," said Paul, "explain."

"First there is the offer itself. Abandon power here to go off into the dangerous dark of space in pursuit of glory. That is the most obvious hook and one that you cannot avoid. But what then? With only the ship that they provide you? That will save House Mustarios much wealth, but you would be stronger with it. What will you do for officers, crew, soldiers? The best personnel will cost or be drawn from the ranks of House Mustarios and if your fleet is large enough, more Mustarios wealth must be drawn upon to sustain it."

"The stronger I make my fleet, the weaker the house becomes," said Paul nodding. The weaker the house becomes, the less or a threat and the more likely it will succumb to other rivals. The weaker my fleet is, the more likely that the man who has the most reason to return with vengeance dies in the great dark or never amasses the power to become a threat. Yes, I see."

"I thought you might. What are your intentions, my lord?"

A chime announced a visitor. Paul hit a rune on his desk. The ceramite doors at the far end of the study opened and Colonel Dowell walked in. He bowed. "My lord."

"Please approach Colonel," said Paul. The military man walked across the crimson and gold rug, up the short flight of stairs and stopped at his lord's desk. "What can I do for you Colonel?"

"Sire, I wanted you to know that most of the men and officers would volunteer to go with you. You'll need good men out there, men whose loyalty can be relied upon."

"We were just discussing that matter Colonel. Are you included among the volunteers?"

"Yes sir," said the military man, drawing himself up to attention.

"Then gather the best two thousand of your volunteers for the ship's company. Make sure to requisition as many supplies and weapons as you'll need from the house's stores and then get them training together."

"Yes, my lord."

"We'll save the house the expense of outfitting a fleet, but we will take this very fine ship included with the warrant and we will use every resource at our disposal to make sure that it goes into the void with only the best on board. Janos, I'm going to need former spacers, officers and crew as advisers. There's plenty of spacers on and around Terra."

"But not plenty of reliable former spacers," said the old sage. "I will get my people searching for suitable candidates. In the mean time, my lord, I would like you to do a favor to an old man."


"Do not go anywhere without Sybel. She is my best agent. I mean no disrespect to the Lifeguards or the good Colonel's men, but I would feel much better if she were with you."

"I will Janos. Are there any more concerns?" Both men stared at him. "Any more concerns that can be addressed at this time?" Both shook their heads. "In that case, I bid you both good night. Get some sleep. There's plenty of work for us all tomorrow morning."

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"Cutter 337-IX, you are cleared for departure on your current flight plan," a harsh vox said over the vox. "The Emperor protects."

"Hail the Emperor," Paul replied as he grasped the gun cutter's main flight controls. "Take the engines off stand by," the young lord continued.

"Yes, my lord," said the tall, rail thin man in the copilot's seat. Damien Esticles was light skinned and white haired, his face and body lined with age and battle scars. He wore a heavy navy greatcoat over a midnight blue bodyglove. His eyes were a startling blue.

"Surveyor readings?" Paul asked. The young man wore the similar bodyglove. It was armoured sufficiently to resist light weapons and the collar and upper back section housed a hood that would convert the suit into an emergency vac suit. Behind them sat Sybel Dawning, wearing a black bodyglove of her own. The scabbard of her sword was tied to the seat next to her and a pair of autopistols were holstered around her hips.

"Our path is clear," replied the battlefleet veteran crisply. He had seen Mustarios glance at the screens and smiled slightly in approval of the young lord's actions.

"Excellent," said Paul. "Firing maneuvering thrusters."

Two small thrusters flared, pushing the matte black ship away from the skeletal docking assembly Another set fired again, turning the ship and then a opposing pair fired, killing the spin. Running lights flashed scarlet as the ship's nose swung across the glittering jewel of Luna and then towards space.

Beneath the cutter countless lights shown across the face of Holy Terra. Great clusters and lines of light signified the highest levels of activity and they crossed the continents of North and South American like the webs of a great spider colony. More lines and clusters slashed across what had once been the great oceans and were now the hives of men.

In orbit above humanity's home world the activity never ceased. Countless battlestations, weapon platforms, and ships defended Holy Terra. Their numbers were equaled by the commercial stations and Chartist and private vessels that shipped goods and people to and from the seat of Imperial governance. The web of activity spread out from the orbit of Holy Terra to include Luna and the host of Imperial Navy facilities in orbit around Terra's moon ranging from defence laser platforms to shipyards. Fleet bases and weapon batteries studded Luna's surface, making it a defensive bastion that was almost unassailable.

Paul brought the main engines online as the cutter lazily drifted away from the space station's docking arms. "Engaging main engines. Acceleration at ten gravities until we clear the station."

"Well done, my liege," said Esticles. "Very well handled. I would give you a stern look and a nod of approval if you were a battlefleet cadet."

"Thank you," said Paul. "Bringing up the acceleration to fifty gravities. Course to Saturnine shipyards set." Fingers flew across the controls. "Machine spirit has the course, autopilot engaged." He turned to his copilot. "So, what next?"

"It's a long trip to Saturn, my lord, and there is much to learn. The similarities between a cutter and a cruiser are few, but fortunately you have been well trained on how to fly. That cuts down on the what must be covered. You do not need to know how to operate a starship's controls, but you must know how they function. How long it takes to reload a macro cannon. The results of ordering a barrage of fifty cannons on an asteroid or a light cruiser. When a ghost return on an auger relay is the product of machine malfunction or reflection of charged gases or an enemy ship hiding in those gases. How much pounding naked hull can take, both yours and the enemy. How long it takes to turn and how quickly your voids can dump energy. All these things a captain must know and learning from books only covers part of it. That you know a cutter so well helps with many of these things, but there is still much left to learn."

"We have time. Let's begin."


The gun cutter glided over the great, glittering plane of ice fragments. Sybel Dawning looked out of the cockpit window. "It's beautiful," she said softly.

"The rings of Saturn, one of the marvels of the Solar System," said Esticles. "This was an independent principality during the Age of Strife. When the Emperor united Mars and Luna under the banner of Holy Terra, the fleets of Saturn joined with him."

"Is that it?" Paul asked, pointing at a far off cluster of lights hanging above the rings.

"Good eyes, my lord," said Esticles. "Yes, that should be the shipyard. We'll get a better look as we come in closer."

Two Lightning fighters passed the cutter on the left. Paul watched the sleek and deadly craft pass them and fly off into the dark of space. "Patrol?"

"The Lightnings? Probably. There is no star system as heavily patrolled as Sol, with the possible exception of Cadia. Most space is nothing like Sol. Here almost every no account rock and moonlet has a some kind of relay on it if not a full scale base or habitation. Every course has to be approved and should something go wrong the system is swarming with ships that can reach you quickly. In most places, a ship lives and dies on its own."

The metal-cage gridwork of the shipyard had come into view, illuminated by a host of navigation and work lights. It sprawled over a hundred cubic kilometers and bulged with habitat and factory modules that serviced the starships growing in its construction bays. "Magnificent," said Paul. "The ship in the far bay. That's it, isn't it?"

Damien squinted and peered into the dark. "Yes, I think so." The ship in question was painted white and trimmed with brass and gold. A great cluster of spires and towers crowned the rear part of her upper deck, a city and cathedral that travelled through space on the back of a great leviathan. Behind the cathedral towers were the massive engine tubes that would propel the ship through the void with streams of blazing plasma. The length of the great ship was studded with eagle headed maneuvering thrusters and a host of defense batteries. Row upon row of dragon headed macro cannon batteries dominated her flanks and a pair of massive dorsal lance turrets added to her destructive power. Her prow was sheathed in heavy armour plate and its top housed the huge barrels of yet another lance battery.

"Sweet Throne of Earth," whispered Esticles, "she is beautiful. Older style, a grand cruiser all gun pattern. A lot of power, but don't much fit in with current doctrine. Not many places still make them anymore."

"A good ship to take alone into the void though," said Paul.

"Aye. No torpedoes to restock. She can make her own cannon shells in her workshops. She can sustain herself for ages. What will you call her?"

"The Lord Gregor."

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"Atten-shun!" shouted Amira Starnes. A thousand feet crashed on the deck. "Captain on the deck!" Fists slammed on breasts and were then flung outward. "My lord captain," said Amira, "the fighting men and women of your crew await your pleasure."

Amira Starnes was no beauty. She was one hundred ninety five centimeters and one hundred kilos of bone, muscle, gristle, and cicatrices. Her skin had paled from a healthy tan and her hair was a cross cropped dirty blond. The left side of her face was marred by scars radiating away from the augmentic that replaced her eye.

"Thank you senior lieutenant," said Paul Mustarios. "Walk with me please." She fell in stride beside the young lord. Five hundred spacers stood rigidly at attention in the empty cargo bay. "The men are mostly from Callivern Mercantile?"

"The majority of us lord," she replied. House Mustarios was the largest single share holder in Callivern. "A few of your House's own armsmen, a few from other ships looking for new berths, and a handful of battlefleet veterans. "

"Sounds formidable," replied Paul.

"The signing bonuses and the opportunities were attractive to ambitious young men and older veterans who have not found their fortunes. They'll take orders and kick ass, my lord. I've already winnowed away the weak. My life if I fail you."

"I may hold you to that."

"You should."


The bell chimed and Damien Esticles rose from his desk and walked across the room. The temporary quarters were Spartan, but tolerable. The door opened, revealing Captain Mustarios. "My lord," said Damien, bowing. "Won't you come in?"

"Thank you," said Paul. He walked in, his lethal shadow following behind him. "I hear you won't be sailing with us."

"My lord, when your man contacted me, it wasn't for a position in the crew. It was to train you and help find suitable officers and enlisted men for the ship. I'm not a young man anymore, my lord. It has been a pleasure instructing you in the art of commanding a vessel and I'm pleased to pick the wheat from the chaff when it comes to picking a crew, but my spacer days are done."

"I can't say I'm happy to hear that. Is there anything I can do to change your mind?"

"My lord, if I were ten or fifteen years younger, then I would be delighted to be your man. But a long voyage into unknown space with all that entails. . . . "

"What if you didn't come in conventional role? The Lord Gregor has space set aside for luxury suites with all the amenities that senior officers can expect in the battlefleet. Your experience is valuable. I could use an adviser."

"My lord-"

"Just think about it. We've only begun to supply and crew the ship. There's time."

"I will, my lord."


"The Lord Gregor eh?" said the fat man. He was over two meters tall was still immensely strong. Decades of easy living had added bulk to his frame, but had not weakened him. "Not very original of the young pup."

"As you say, my lord," said a slim, dapper man barely over one and a half meters tall. He wore black accented with silver, in contrast to his patrons scarlet and gold uniform.

The room was lit from above by lumen globes hanging from chains. A gold cased cogitator was connected to a desk and wall screen display. Viscount Jaq Barlais lounged behind a three meter long teak desk in a massive gel filled chair that shaped itself to his contours. "What of our Inquisition friends?"

"The ones who will pretend not to know us and kill us if we persist? They've got what they want. Gregor is out of the way and they can advance their pawn to push whatever agenda it is they want to advance."

Barlais raised an eyebrow. The corpulent noble man was as bald as an egg and had most of the rest of his body hair removed. His eyebrow were very thin. "That's all? I'm disappointed in you Byron."

"I try not to pry into the Inquisition's internal politics. Every faction hates that and they all kill people for knowing too much. If you wish to risk their displeasure, I will, of course, endeavour to find out."

Barlais scowled. "No. So they're just going to let the young pup go?"

"Why not?" asked Byron. "He doesn't know who had his father killed and he never will. They have no specific grievance against Mustarios and taking the house on will be costly. They've won. They're content with that."

"I," said Viscount Barlais, "am not."

"As you say, my lord. Do you have instructions for me?"

"Find some way of hurting them, of breaking their power so I may crush them."

"As you say, my lord."

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Sybel Dawning strode down the length of the nave, which ran half the length of the command basilica. The assassin wore dark blue great coat with an elaborate silver fringe over her armoured bodyglove, an act of disguise that made her hard demeanor and weapons seem to belong to a ranking officer than to a bodyguard. Behind her followed Janos Peteros, wearing a dark fur lined robe, and Paul. The Lord Gregor's master and commander wore the midnight blue uniform marked with flashes of red and gold appropriate to senior member of House Mustarios.

Paul stepped forward onto the raised dais. "The command throne," he said softly. Holo projectors lined the edge of the dais, allowing the captain to surround himself with data. He looked forward at the bank of pict screens that covered the front of the basilica, above the stations that would be operated by crew and servitors. "Funny," he said. "I expected windows."

"That would be impractical," said Janos Peteros. "The command basilica is protected within the Lord Gregor's hull, not exposed to enemy fire. Romantic conventions remain those. The ships spires are for sensor and communication systems, not the command deck. In any case, the repeater screens can show you what is out there far better than the naked eye."

"Of course," said Paul. "How much longer until we get the rest of the servitors?"

"Those associated with the Mechanicus cloister have already arrived. The remainder are do to arrive in two shipments over the next few weeks. From out side the solar system, so one must make do with a certain uncertainty in arrival time. Tech priests associated with our house will be performing security checks on their programming. That would delay us, except that we are still dealing with the matter of the crew."

"Not enough battlefleet veterans and merchant sailors from old allies?" asked Paul. Many of the jobs aboard ship could be automated or done by fairly unskilled labour, but there were others for which skilled and experienced hands were crucial.

"Not close to enough," replied Janos. "Not an obtain a high standard of performance. Too many of the applicants are unsuitable."

"Keep trying," said Paul. "We may have to lower our standards and set out with fewer experienced men than I would like. We will have time to train the crew."

"Unless something untoward happens before you leave the Segmentum Solar," objected Janos. "Not every part of space is as civilized as Ancient Terra or the Mustarios holdings. There are still pirates and xenos in the Segmentum."

Paul smiled. "I am justly rebuked teacher. However, the longer we wait the more time our enemies will have to their plans into motion. The sooner we leave the better."

Janos inclined his head. "As you say, my lord. On the crew front we do have an interesting application, for the position of cargomaster."

"Supercargo," Paul corrected. "The position is called supercargo. Is he, or she, a spacer?"

"No, my lord, but one with interesting qualifications nonetheless."

"Make an appointment. We shall see if we can fill another senior position."

"As you will, my lord."


Gaius Poladin coughed and adjusted his collar. The white silk shirt and black wool/silk blend jacket and pants were the most expensive clothes he owned, suitable for marriages, funerals, and meetings with upper management. The clothes were good enough to be respectful and somber enough to convey his status as a professional member of the lower orders. He had never in his life met anyone as important as an heir to one of the great houses of the Segmentum Solar.

One of the guards in midnight blue carapace armour addressed him. "The young lord will see you now." The door slid open and Gaius stepped through.

The room wasn't as lavishly decorated as Gaius had expected, but then a lord of House Mustarios did not need extravagant displays of wealth to convey his power. His name alone did that. The walls were lined with mostly empty shelves, although a few books and recording media were present. The room was large, with plenty of room to walk around or host a meeting with a large group of people, and lushly carpeted. Conventional lumen globes illuminated it, although the desk lamp was covered with gold leaf. A cogitator dominated the huge polished oak desk and a rack behind the shockingly young man seated at it was filled with a variety of weapons. Young lord indeed. Paul Mustarios could not be much more than twenty. A too skinny woman stood in the corner, almost invisible in the shadow. An aide or lover or perhaps something more sinister.

"My lord," Gaius said and bowed. "Thank you for seeing me."

"I understand you wish to become the ship's supercargo? Can you tell me why I should choose a man with no experience in space for the job?"

Merciful Throne, the man got straight to the point and talked enough like an exec. This Gaius could handle. "My lord, I am not a spacer. I am, however, a man who deals in trade. I balance books for Callivern Mercantile, an enterprise that has greatly enriched your house over the years. I confirm or block purchases. I know the price foodstuffs will fetch on Holy Terra and I know the operating costs of shipping them there by sprint courier or heavy freighter. I know the risks of stopping at Armageddon and the price its autoguns and heavy artillery will fetch on feudal worlds and agricultural planets. I know what to buy one world that will bring a profit when sold at another and what to buy on that world to ship to the next. I can't fly a ship or navigate it or repair it or target its guns but I can help you earn a profit. It's what I do and I do it very well."

"And why do you want to go out into the black with us?" asked Paul Mustarios.

"My lord, your family has a reputation for treating its retainers and associates well. I can be valuable to you. At Callivern, I've risen as high as I can. I am a man with no name, no titles, no elite scholam educated me, and no men of stature stand as my patrons. I will work a few more years for Callivern and then retire to a modest apartment and live modestly for the last few decades of my life. No one will remember me when I'm gone.

"Here I can matter. I can help build a dynasty. I can receive rejuvenant treatment and live for centuries. I can be an officer and live well. I can do something other than aspire to live the same life as my father and the father before him, mere cogs in the machine. I can have adventures. I can make fortunes and even share in them. My lord, for this job you do not need a cargo handler, you need a man who knows worlds and knows numbers. You need a man like me."

"That I do," said Paul Mustarios. "My decision will be soon. My agents will inform you of my will."

"Thank you, my lord."

"You are dismissed."

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Ignacius Cole felt a wave of vertigo passed him as the shuttle entered the Lord Gregor's gravity field. After so many years in space it didn't cause nausea nor, if he had been standing, did it interfere with his balance. He sat back in his chair and waited for the shuttle to land.

The landing gear slammed into the deck with a loud clank. The pilot had come in too hard. Within equipment tolerances, because everything was built to last, but the pilot had had a heavy hand on the throttle for the entire flight. Rookie or attack craft pilot wannabee. Or both.

He unstrapped his crash belts and headed toward the loading ramp. The door cycled and let in a wash of cold air with the heavy stench of fuel fumes. The bay held fuel tanks and docking space for four heavy cargo lifters. An elevator near the rear was available to transport damaged craft to a lower deck for repairs.

Two men in midnight blue livery were approaching the shuttle. They didn't look like ship's security that he had ever seen. The uniforms were too flash for everyday wear by common grunts, there weren't enough pockets, and the boots were ground pounder not spacer wear. They wore long knives and pistols on their belts and had drum fed, short frame, big bore sluggers slung on their backs.

"Senior Lieutenant Cole?" the lead one asked. His was dark, even for a dirtsider, nearly as black as space. The second man was a few shades lighter.

"Yes," said Ignacius Cole. "I have an interview for a position on the ship."

"Yes sir. If you would please follow us we will conduct you to the lord captain."

"Certainly. Lead the way." The two men lead Cole out of the docking bay and down several corridors to a tram way. They took their seats in the eight man car and it raced down the length of the ship. After about a minute of travel it stopped and they got off. The climbed three decks and approached a room guarded by another pair of dirtsiders. Auspexes were built into the door and there were four cyberskulls hovering in the air, two of them gun skulls. Cole surrendered his saber and his pistol and let them run surveyor wands over his body. There was a follow up pat search before they were finished.

One of them nodded to an unseen voice, probably microbead or implant communication. "You may enter." The door slid open to reveal an office considerably more spartan than those of most of the captains in the battlefleet.

Mustarios was young, but Cole had done research of his own and expected that. He was taller than Cole, who was used to being one of the shorter men in the room, and slim. The woman next to him had a voidborn's build and height. "My lord, I am Ignacius Cole, formerly a flag lieutenant of Battlefleet Solar."

"Have a seat," said Paul Mustarios. Ignacius Cole was short for spacer, with a slim and compact build. His skin was pale and his hair and eyes were dark. He had fine aquiline features that were the gift from his genes or a surgeon's knife. "Your record indicates you mustered out as a senior lieutenant, not a flag lieutenant. Would you care to explain that?"

"Certainly, my lord," said Ignacius as he sat down. "I had enemies in high places and no friends. I took the hint and retired before they inflicted any more damage."

"And what did you do to incur such wrath?"

"I was born wrong. Hive nobility is high birth compared to most, but not good enough for Battlefleet Solar. I wasn't . . . .modest, especially when it came to commenting on the inadequacies of my betters. I wasn't born to be the lick spittle of lesser men. My talents and money carried me far, but then I reached the limit. I had no patrons and a temper. Duels got me enemies and enemies made sure my future in Battlefleet Solar was gone."

"That's more charitable than my informants would put it."

"I am not completely without bias in the matter."

Paul chuckled. "Why would I want an arrogant, ruthless bastard who has the tendency to spill the blood of his brother officers on my ship, especially since you're likely to view me as one of those incompetents whose blood you are so eager to spill?"

"Ahh. Good question. Three reasons, my lord. The first is that I will tell you when I think you're wrong, something your very loyal liegemen will be reluctant to do. The second is that you're my best shot of getting a ship of my own. You have to gain enough wealth to expand your fleet for me to get a ship and I have to stay in your good graces to command one. Lastly, I'm damned good and your spies must have already passed that along. You need a seasoned spacer to back you up. I need you. You need someone like me. My ambition can only be served by making you successful."

"You practiced that."

"I did indeed, my lord."

"Welcome aboard. I'll let you know your rank when I decide it. You'll have quarters suitable for a senior officer in any respect."

Cole rose to his feat and saluted, fist to chest. "As you say, my lord captain."

Mustarios returned the salute. "Your are dismissed."

Cole turned on his heel and exited Paul's office. "I kind of like him," said Sybel. "I hope I don't have to kill him."

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Maria embraced her son. "How are you Paul?"

"I'm well mother," he replied, hugging his mother. "The ship is fully crewed and is loading cargo as we speak."

"You have good officers?" the matriarch of House Mustarios asked?

"I think so. The void will tell, as they say." They walked down the hall. Ancient tapestries and holopicts of scions of the house hung on the walls. Mirror masked guards stood at attention beside columns of transparent crystal.

"It is a mother's place to worry about their children."

"I'll be in good hands."

"You'll be going into the dark," she replied. "A venture at least as dangerous as war. A venture that may include war."

They walked through red stained oak double doors to a dining room. A hundred people were standing around the three long tables. Suspensors held a dozen crystal chandeliers in mid air above the dining hall and servants in immaculate dark blue livery waited to serve the feast. Maria took her place at the head of the center table and Paul stood at her right hand. Maria raised a glass of white wine.

"Since the Great Crusade our family has served our beloved God-Emperor. Before that it stood against the chaos and darkness of the Age of Strife, sometimes serving the Master of Mankind under the names he used then. We are Mustarios and we have been soldiers and scholars and teachers and rulers for as far back as any can remember! Our heritage is glorious service to the Emperor and mankind. Now my son begins another chapter, a new chapter, in our family history! He will go into the dark and bring the Emperor's light to those he finds. He shall bring justice to the wicked, wisdom to the righteous, and wealth to the wise. He shall rediscover what is lost and blaze paths into the unknown. This is a human galaxy, now and forever, and as Mustarioses have fought and struggled on the known worlds to keep it that way, so shall he fight and struggle among the unknown worlds to extend mankind's reach. Mustarios and the Emperor!"

"Mustarios and the Emperor!" the crowd shouted back. They raised their glasses in salutes and then drank. Maria sat down and the rest followed. Servants removed the tops from platters of food and the dinner began in earnest.


Paul put the gold framed pict into his chest and looked at his room. What had been his room. Odds were that he would never see it again. Never stand on Ancient Terra, never again see his childhood friends, never again see the treasures of his youth. Never see his mother again.

He sighed. "It's hard," said Maria from behind him.

"Are you psychic mother?"

"Only in the way all mothers are. Oh my son, it hurts to think I may never see you again."

"Never is a long time mother," said Paul as he turned towards her. "Fortunes have been made and kingdoms built in shorter spans." He embraced her. She sobbed. Tears ran down her cheeks. And down his.

She broke away from his grasp, holding him at arms length. "Go now. While I'm still strong. Go now and stay safe. I love you."

"And I you." He kissed her on the forehead and closed his traveling chest. A servant standing nearby picked it up and put it on a suspensor plate. Maria Mustarios watched her son leave.

"May the Emperor guard you and keep you," she whispered.

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A score of men in vermilion cloaks and carapace armour descended from the lighter's ramp. Steam hissed from the landing gear, strangely loud in the almost deserted lighter bay. The armsmen stood at attention around the ramp, their faces invisible behind their helmet masks, as five figures obscured by robes of vermilion silk walked down the ramp. The one in the lead was the shortest and most heavyset of the group, although the all encompassing robes made determining any physical characteristics difficult. The armsmen parted before him and he stepped forward, throwing back his hood to reveal a puffy, bloated face. He was pale, with eyes that were pits of darkness and a headband of black silk around his forehead. "Lord Mustarios," he lisped. His lips were fleshy and blubbery. "We are here as contracted."

"My lord Navigator," said Paul, bowing slightly. He was a rogue trader and a great lord in his own right, but the Navis Nobilae were aristocrats in their own right. "Welcome aboard the Lord Gregor. These are my senior officers and staff." He gestured to score of people in dress uniforms standing behind him. Along the walls of the bay troops from Dowell's regiment stood rigidly at attention, hellguns held in gloved hands.

"We are honoured, of course," said the Navigator. "But tired. The journey has been strenuous. We would like to retire to our quarters."

"They have been furnished to your specifications," replied Paul. "If anything is inadequate we have time to make corrections before we leave. If you would follow me?"

He lead the Navigators and their guards down the bay. "A transport car has been given over to your use. It will take you directly to your quarters."

"Thank you Lord Mustarios. We shall have to spend the time becoming acquainted. Sometime soon."

The Navigators and their guards embarked on the transit car and departed. "That went well," said Colonel Dowell.

"He's old," said Esticles. "The older ones tend to be reserved. One of the younger ones will probably get the job of being intermediary between you and the rest of the Navigators."

"Or one of their human retainers," said Ignacius Cole. "They have two more lighters full of personnel due to arrive."

"Their retainers don't need the royal welcome. The rest of you return to your duties. Tell the good sub lieutenant that the bay is once again his. The rest of you are dismissed to go about your duties." The gathering of senior staff began to break up. Paul walked out a corridor, shadowed as always by Sybel.

"My lord," said Damien Esticles. "There is one more matter to discuss." Ignacius Cole was following right behind him.

Paul stopped and waited for the older men before resuming walking down the corridor. Maintenance crew stood aside as senior staff passed them. "What is that?" Paul asked.

"It's a delicate matter," said Esticles. "It's a matter of crew morale."

"And?" asked Paul.

"The crew is mostly male."

"Ahh. What is the usual way such things are handled?"

"Licensed prostitutes service the crew, officers maintain mistresses."

"Or harems," said Cole. "Its not a savory business, but we aren't a Chartist vessel with a third generation voidborn crew and an even balance of the sexes. Without some kind of outlet it'll get bad. Or go from bad to worse."

"What do you mean?"

"They Navy occasionally empties prisons when they need ratings. Are you aware-"

Paul silenced him with a wave. "I get the picture. The underdecks of Navy warships must be a sewer."

"They can be," said Cole.

"That will not do for House Mustarios. The crew are my retainers and their safety and well being is my responsibility. Do you gentlemen know how to ah-"

Esticles looked at Cole. "We can take care of it my lord."

"Good," said Paul uncomfortably. "Then do so. Handle the necessary arrangements with Master Poladin. And offer good terms."

"As you say, my lord," said Esticles. Both former Navy officers watched their lord and his bodyguard walk to the lift and the gates close.

"He's a good kid," said Cole. "Too good."

"Yes," said Esticles. "It's going to be problem."

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Gaius Poladin strode towards the bridge, data slate in hand. There were four men at the entrance, two looking in and two looking out. All of them wore carapace armour over the dark blue and red uniforms of Mustarios household troops and clenched hellguns in armoured gauntlets. Their gazes were hidden behind dark visors. Poladin couldn't help but feel a chill in their presence. It was a relief to move passed them.

The command deck was huge. Near the back Lord Captain Mustarios was sitting upon the command throne. Two long pits housed servitors slaved to ship stations and the ship's machine spirit. Closer to the lord captain were human personnel manning various command and control stations. More junior personnel manned ancillary stations, monitored ship functions, or watched the servitors.

Sybel Dawning stood just off Paul's left, a power sword slung over a dark blue long coat with vermilion shoulder boards and an autopistol on her hip. "Lord Captain," began Gaius, "if I may?"

"Approach," said Paul, a slight smile on his lips. "What do you have?"

"A proposal, my lord captain. Turibia Minor is an unimportant world about five hundred light years from Holy Terra. The last part of the warp passage is prone to shifts and eddies. Most Chartists captains won't chance it and Rogue Traders don't operate this close to Terra. It is, however, subject to periodic Ork raids and doesn't have enough industry to supply the weapons they need. Battlefleet patrols are irregular do to the same shifts which means that the Orks are almost never intercepted."

"And I suppose they can pay?"

"Their industry gets hammered when the Orks attack, but they have mining and agricultural resources that makes it worth the trip. The Administratum collects tithes every ten years or so. Last time was four years. With enough weapons to put a fight off any Ork raiders that show up, they can easily afford that."


"The Sollax Works in the Belt actually. Defense lasers, anti-vehicle and anti-air lascannons, anti-personnel and anti-air multilasers-"

"I get the picture."

"The first two thirds of the journey will be through well mapped space. I thought this would make a good shakedown voyage. The first part easy, the last leg a little harder, and profit at the end."

"And if our timing is bad a fight at the end."

"I believe we are in the service of a rogue trader and risk goes with the territory."

"Not even a hint of a smile Mister Poladin. I'm impressed."

"Cards, my lord. They're good training if you can manage not to lose your shirt."

"I'll keep that in mind. Very well Mister Poladin. Inform the Sollax Works that they have a sale."

"With pleasure, Lord Captain."


The man who answered to the name of Deckan West walked alone through the bowels of the Lord Gregor. Deckan West was an able spacer with fifteen years experience in the void and an excellent record for both skill and diligence. He had signed with the Lord Gregor in hopes of winning fame and fortune. What he had received was a bullet in the head and an secret cremation. His murder assumed his identity and took his berth.

The corridor was an access way from the enginarium control rooms to the engines themselves. Tubes heavy with control system wiring and power conduits ran along the ceiling and through the walls. The assassin stopped at an access panel and knelt down. He knelt down beside it and pried open the panel. From a pocket in his overalls he slipped a grey case. He opened it revealing rounded square of something that looked a lot like worked ivory, but was not. A dark blue jewel was set in the center. He touched the jewel and closed the case. Reaching up, he attached it to the inside surface of the wall directly above the access panel. He closed the panel and walked away.

The ship was still in port. Jumping ship would be simple enough. Deckan West would be missed, but nothing would be wrong and it wouldn't be the first time a void sailor had jumped ship. He wouldn't be the only one either. He would shed the Deckan West identity in favor of others as he traveled back to his master to report that the plan was in motion. Paul Mustarios's days were numbered as were all of those who served aboard the Lord Gregor.

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The touch of a hand on his shoulder caused Japhel Magellos to stir uneasily in his bed. "What?" he said with eyes still half shut and a brain full of fog.

"My lord, your esteemed uncle has called for a full meeting of the family," said Clara softly. The petit valet was barely over one hundred fifty centimeters and wore a vermillion uniform that proclaimed her status as a retainer of House Magellos.

Japhel yawned and motioned the blond woman away. "Lay out clothes, comfortable, and an overrobe." He staggered out of bed naked. "And a new headband."

He lurched across his bedroom and into the marble tiled bathroom. The shower enclosure opened automatically and hot water started running before he reached it. The door closed behind it and he luxuriated in the spray. After a few minutes he was fully awake and reached for the soap. The water sluiced away the foam and he stepped out of the shower. Clara and Danica stood waiting, their gaze averted. Japhel had not removed the black silk band that had covered his third eye in the shower. "Proceed," he commanded.

The body servants dried him with fluffy towels and anointed him with scented oils. He stepped into the next room and dressed himself in the clothes that had been laid out. Plain black pants, a simple white undertunic, and a black over tunic with gold buttons and a stylized zig-zag pattern worked in cloth of gold. His servants handed him a robe of vermilion silk and he draped it over his body, belting it with a sash. "Leave me," he commanded. They departed.

He removed his headband and stared into the mirror. He was almost handsome, by human standards. Almost. Tall, lithe, with a well formed face and a short, thick dark hair. His skin was a touch too pale by some standards and his eyes were wells of black ink. All three of them. On his forehead was the black orb of his warp eye, the mutation that allowed him to stare into the warp and stay sane. The mutation that granted unparalleled ability to navigate the dangerous tides of the warp and helped make a far flung human empire possible. A mutation that brought death to those that looked upon it and the finest of gilded chains to those that bore it.

He covered his warp eye with a navy blue headband shot through with streaks of gold and departed from his chambers. Alyss was waiting for him outside his chambers. She wore a black gown under her robe. Physically, Japhel and his cousin were much alike. Tall, graceful, pale, and dark haired they were the scions of bloodlines that touched frequently. However, her eyes were shining blue. She had not begun to succumb to the inevitable tide of mutation that consumed all Navigators. The genetic changes that made them what they were, tied them so closely to the warp, and the prolonged exposure to the power of the immaterium eventually combined to warp and alter Navigator's flesh. Webbed fingers, claw-like hands, and gross variations in weight were the most common of the changes. Webbed fingers, claws, weight change, and eyes as black as the void.

"Hello cousin," he said.

She inclined her head gracefully. "I decided to wait for you."

"Courtesy or a desire not to go to the meeting alone?"

"Perhaps both?"

He snorted. "Do you have any idea what it is about?"

"Our first course, I would imagine. It's getting about that time."

The two Navigators walked down the hall towards a pair of four meter tall ebony doors. The dark wood was inlaid with platinum stars and moons. A pair of guards wearing vermilion and black carapace armour stood guard, automatic drum fed shotguns in their hands.

The Navigators passed and the doors closed behind them. Inside a room with nests of throw pillows piled around a hololithic table. The gross physical deformities that Navigators could develop sometimes made sitting in chairs impossible. The others were waiting for them.

"Glad you two could finally join us," said Tiberius. The eldest's toad-like body was half buried in pillows. "We have matters of importance to discuss. Our honour and dignity are at stake."

Philippos nodded like the gutless sycophant that he was. Yvenna remained motionless and noncommittal, a slender statue of living marble. Alyss settled down in one of the patches of pillows. Japhel walked to the other patch. "And what grave offense has been committed against our honour?" he asked skeptically. The old bastard was just pissed that he actually had to do some **** work.

"Only the gravest!" said Tiberius. "A course has been set without consulting us. As if we were mere servants!"

"We are servants," said Japhel as he sat down cross legged. "Our entire purpose is to serve. And because our service is so very vital we are rewarded with wealth and power, but we exist to serve mankind."

"Very pretty," said Tiberius. "Are you finished with your recitation or may I continue? We are Navigators! We set the course, we are masters of the warp, and we are owed the respect our position demands!"

"The captain is the master of the ship," said Japhel, a smile on his lips. "The sole master. The Navigator controls the course in the warp. He is captain and Mustarios. A young, unproven captain. He cannot be seen to yield. To anyone."

"We are not servitors!" roared Tiberius, spittle flying from his lips.

"No," said Japhel, "we are not. But we do take his orders."

Tiberius sneered. "You're a good little dog, aren't you?"

"Want to test my teeth?" asked Japhel sweetly. "Or do you want to throw a fit before we've left dock? Do you think he'll back down under those conditions? Or will he replace us with a more . . . tractable house? How do you think that will go over with the Hierarchy? What do you think that will do to your position?"

Tiberius growled. "Don't threaten me boy."

"Throwing a fit will get you off this ship," said Japhel, "but it won't get you someplace better."

"And your solution is to let this insult pass?" said Tiberius contemptuously.

"Not at all," said Japhel. "One should politely remind the rogue trader and scion of the ancient and noble House of Mustarios of the place of wise and puissant Navis Nobilite in deciding such matters. Without offending him or appearing to undermine his authority among the crew."

"You're such a tame curr," said Tiberius. "Alyss."

"Yes uncle?" the young Navigator said sweetly.

"Educate the boy on the right way of doing things."

"As you wish," she said with a bow.

"This meeting is over." Japhel, Alyss, and Yvenna stood up and walked out the door.

"You provoked him deliberately," Alyss hissed.

"The fat fraud is looking for an excuse to scuttle this contract, a contract we need, and get back to sitting on his overfed arse," whispered Japhel. "As if I'm going to let his manufactured tantrum scuttle our chances at careers of note and this opportunity to rebuild the family fortune."

"Out there, there is no Hierarchy for him to answer to. He's the highest authority."

"Out there, he's just a lazy never was with delusions of adequacy," replied Japhel. "Out there, the Navigator who can get the ship to where the captain wants it is senior."

"Your ambition is going to get you into trouble."

"We're already in trouble, cousin dear. We're up to our necks in it and you'd better learn how to swim."

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