Dead Below - Mission Log

Prologue

For a ship housing some 200,000 souls, the corridors of the Sector-Class Mass-Conveyor the Swift Aludra were always suspiciously quiet when the Inquisitor and I would go for our weekly walks. I suspected this was the Inquisitor’s doing – utilizing his Emperor-given gifts to subtly encourage the other passengers to remain in their quarters as we traversed the lonely adamantium hallways.

“You are correct” said the Inquisitor, easily gleaning the thought from my mind.

Mentally, I cursed myself for my lapse in preparedness. The Inquisitor was always probing his subordinates for weaknesses, and I knew this would be a minor strike against me. Shoring up my mental barriers, I assessed the man standing beside me.

Inquisitor Carom Grendal. Male. Appears middle-aged but tell-tale signs point to a much longer lifespan, possibly close to 200 sidereal years. Hair is neat and gentlemanly, showing hints of grey at the sides. Would be considered handsome by most – whether this was due to good genes or surgical enhancement I could not say. Dress is currently incognito as a trader – perfect cover for our journey into the new sector. No weapons on his person, but then again, a Beta-level Telepath needs none. Plus, he has me…

“I assure you we are in no danger, Miss King”
Again! Curse me twice!
“Apologies for my laxity, lord. My mind is on the future and not in the present.”
“Ah yes, our destination. Askellon. What secrets might she hold, hmm? Colleagues have informed me of the growing need of our presence there – it seems the re-emergent Imperium requires the delicate touch of His most Holy servants. I am most excited to answer the call”

A servitor wielding a rotating broom trundles from a side-alcove, its brain too heavily lobotomised to pick up the gentle nudges of the Inquisitor. The steady chug of its decrepit generator filling the corridor. Its milk-white eyes do not see us as we walk, nor would it respond to us even if it could. With barely a sideways glance we step around the pitiful creature.

“As am I, lord. I am eager to serve you and the Emperor with all the power my new rank affords me.”
“I’m sensing a ‘but’, Miss King.”

I hesitate before answering. “I do not seek to question your judgement, but why me? You had your choice of Interrogators for this assignment. Agents with vastly more experience than I.”

For the first time today the Inquisitor looks directly at me as he speaks.

“I forget that those without the gift of witch-sight cannot appreciate the primordial truths it can expose in people. There is much potential in you, Miss King. Potential I seek to unlock. And how do we unlock potential?”
“Through calamity and conflict” I answer, recalling my teachings.
“Precisely, Miss King. The Askellon Sector will provide us with many opportunities for calamity and conflict, and as such we will both become stronger for it”

The remainder of our walk is conducted in silence, the Inquisitor making several unsuccessful attempts to probe my mind, though I must admit it took all of me to resist him – I feel he wasn’t trying his hardest either. Arriving at his quarters, he gestures for me to enter, a luxury I had not been afforded till just this moment. As expected, his quarters are as perfectly disguised as he is, bearing all the marks of a businessman en-route to new horizons. Scattered pricelists, trading reports, an open dataslate detailing intense merchant negotiations – all calculated plants to fool prying eyes. The Inquisitor gathers up the dataslate and seats himself at a small worktable bolted to the compartment wall. Producing his rosette from deep within his coat, he waves the device over the slate, the contents of which instantly fade out into the sacred “I” of the Inquisition.

“Your first mission” he states, handing the slate to me. He continues to speak as I read.

“We need agents, and I’m tasking you with recruiting them. What you have in your hands is a shortlist of recommended acolytes from a colleague already established in Askellon. Review them, and select a team for the attached assignment.”

Profiles flash past my eyes, my biomechanically enhanced brain recording each one as clearly as any cogitator; a hive-world assassin. An ex-naval pilot and gunman. A psyker-hunter. A smooth-talking demagogue. A forge-world reclaimator. Good God-Emperor - an unsanctioned nascent investigator?

“And the mission, lord? What am I to expect?” I enquire.
“Artefact recovery. Should be quick. Get in, and get out.”
“Understood, lord. I will not fail you.”

Inquisitor Grendal looks up at me with eyes of pure animal intelligence, a creature who knows more about me than I ever could.

“I know you won’t.”


Report on Aincrad Station

Osprey,
A few pieces of information for your team before they deploy.
While weapons are not banned on Aincrad, they are expected to be stowed in luggage and not holstered on your person.
Armour is permitted and dress within the port is eclectic. Note however that locals will be suspicious of foreigners who don't have a respirator hanging around their neck at all times.
Bulk carriers are constantly flitting to and from Aincrad to the myriad of trading vessels at high anchor in orbit above Vanth. Some carry workers, gas guards or raw and refined materials, while other more ostentatious landers carry merchants, chemical engineers and guests of the Rogue Trader House of Rosh.
Gas-guards are easily spotted as they all carry a long billhook strapped to their backs - perfect for fending off attacks from the fauna of Vanth. Pipe-men are most often young and lithe individuals who can more easily fit into the cramped control chambers of the vacuum tubes.
The station is defended and patrolled by House Rosh Enforcers - clad in the olive green and tan regalia of Rosh, they wield stun-batons and heavy pistols, and are ever watchful for spies from rival cartels and houses attempting to steal information. Security is overseen by the cruel and efficient Warmaster Bosq of House Rosh, a man to be avoided if at all possible.
Your Acolytes will find me at sub-level 47-G inside the disused Chemical Storage Facility #5453. Upon the door, strike twice, pause once, strike thrice. Passphrase answer upon challenge will be "The dead are below". I have the equipment they require to carry out their holy mission.
Emperor be with you. Your humble servant,
Mercutio

Osprey,
Just moments ago I heard word of that a Mechanicus vessel had entered orbit above Vanth. It is not uncommon for members of the Machine Cult to attend to the grav-rigs and their myriad of fine workings, but they are usually succinctly timed and orchestrated events - not flash inspections with no warning. Bosq is furious at this lack of decorum, and is holding them from deploying their servants with threats of violence.
I cannot imagine that this is a coincidence. Word must have reached the ears of the Mechanicus about the supposed location of the artefact. The machine-men are ever greedy to get their tendrils on esoteric items of interest.
I beseech you to send your team with all haste. With Bosq and the Mechanicus on the trail, we must at quickly to obtain the prize.
Ave Imperator.
Mercutio


Entry 1: Ugly Duckling

Vanth.jpg
[The Gasworks of Vanth]

“We’re a repair team,” growled Thrane, gesturing with a heavy wrench. “And this is a hazardous job, so don’t get too close.” Uncertainly peering into the gloom, the guard shifted his torchlight from Garviel to Elroy. They were frozen in the act of stowing their gear-bags, with ammo and heavy pistols clearly visible. “Uh,” said the guard. “I think I’m going to need to call some- ” The gunshot was muffled by the din of the mass-conveyor’s engines. “Don’t worry Thrane,” said Gallach, as he holstered his firearm and moved to stow the body. “I’m sure that’ll work one of these days.”

[Airboat Race]
The acrid chemical stink of Vanth gushed in though the shuttle doors, setting passengers scrambling for respirators as the re-entry restraints retracted. Even on the high refinery platform of Aincrad Station, the stink clung to everything, belched in greenish clouds from the surrounding smokestacks. Far below, the moss-coloured surface stretched in every direction, dotted by low cloud and hovering gas-rigs; somewhere in this swampy landscape, the crash-site awaited the untested acolytes of Inquisitor Graendal. Posing as guns-for-hire, fighter-pilot Elroy Gallach and gun-slinger Garviel Zane pass through customs as recruits to the Cartel Zahaheim Gas-Guard. Surprised to encounter familiar faces, the frontier-worlders doff their dusters at the Rusty Rebreather, confirming their shared status as provisional ‘acolytes’. They proceed to a far-flung chemical treatment plant where they meet the final member of their Cell, a forge-world reclaimator named Thrane. But scarcely had they been hurried through the door that their mutant contact Mercutio spotted an approaching patrol.

Pulled up at gunpoint, they try to pose as a repair team for the Trader House Roth, but all understand that their mission can afford no delay. Exchanging barely perceptible looks as the guards close in, the operatives whip their hands free before they can be cuffed. Thrane clubs one officer insensate with a pistol-butt, while Gallach neatly severs another’s hand with his naval sabre. The last is impaled as he attempts to flee, his body dragged inside as the Cell cover their tracks. Blooded in combat, the operatives nod approvingly to one other, with Garviel questioning the survivor. Learning that Warmaster Bosk and the Mechancius had already departed in search of the crash-site, the agents gather the equipment supplied by Mercutio and dispose of the captive. They stow away in a shipping container, conferring by torchlight as a shuddering mass-transport shuttle conveys them in the direction of a hidden jetboat. Their journey is disturbed only once, when their cover as a repair team is again penetrated by a nosy guard. Pushing his corpse off the vessel’s side, they zip-line down to the muddy surface shortly before arrival at Drilling Installation 88-Alpha.

Recovering the hidden jet-boat, Gallach skilfully weaves the craft through a swampy maze in the direction of the crash-site. With Mercutio navigating the tangle of hazards, the Cell listens to the steady stream of chatter picked up from the Rogue Trader’s search team. Their snarling leader Bosq urges them forward with mounting impatience, making them easy to avoid as they power along the most obvious path. Revving the ugly airboat over obstacles and embankments, the acolytes take a dangerous but more direct path. Though outpacing the Roth armsmen, in their boldness, they stumble unexpectedly into a mire of sea-weed like growths. As rubbery feelers entangle the rotor and rudder, Gallach looks up from the auspex with a shout of alarm.

The jet boat lurches wildly as a pale shape shoulders free from below, long, slender tentacles spooling sludge, thrashing grotesquely in the air. Agent Mercutio is smashed from the prow by a trunk-like tendril, as the howling bog-man sought to use it's bulk to sink the jetboat. It's roar vibrated through the hull, with Thrane's chainsword carving deep furrows in it's gripping forelimbs. Sap-like pulp spattered into the air as it is peppered with handcannon fire, Elroy throwing his weight behind a running thrust of his billhook into it's hide. The ship suddenly spurts forward, Garviel's frantic sawing freeing it of the tangling growth. Fended off by whooshing blasts of the pintle-flamer, the creature slinks back into the murk below. The decision is taken to continue the journey through the night, relying on Mercutio's unsettling cats-eyes to see a safe path forward. Under the glow of Vanth's many moons, the jetboat putters through the mire, the crackle of the radio-intercept muffled by the enveloping mist.

After some hours, the drone of a copter-flier is faintly heard in the distance, broadwaving the demands of a 'Priest-Errant Ermac' that all parties desist in seeking to recover the crash-site. Hoping to evade the Mechanicus forces, the acolytes again take a circuitous route through the bog. But the move has been anticipated, with Skitarii warriors having been dropped in the swamp to interfere with any pursuit. Emerging from the swamp with their guns levelled, two bionic warriors ambush the Cell, demanding their surrender. Still untried in a stand-up firefight, the acolytes are winged by bullets as they dive into cover. Their return-fire goes wildly astray, with Zane sprinting through the undergrowth shooting from the hip. A few lucky shots strike sparks off the advancing Skitarii's armour, but they advance undeterred on his pinned comrades. Wounding and spearing with bayonets, they drive Gallach and Thrane onto the defensive, until a chance shot severs one of their fluid-feeds. Weakening, he cannot escape as Gallach ducks around a tree to deliver a point-blank shot to his skull. Reeling, the last Skitarii is cleft repeatedly by Thrane's chattering sword, carved into pieces before he stops thrashing. All but certain the Priest-Errant has already located the site, the throne agents hurriedly collect the Skitarii communicator and gun the jetboat forward.

Bosq and his minions quickly pick them up on radar, plying them with honeyed offers. Fixed on their objective, the acolytes arrive into a storm of whipping lasfire, with Roth troops ensconced on a hill overlooking the impact pool. Zane slides flat onto his belly, finally in his element as he snipes the skull-caps off the panicking armsmen. With their comrade’s heads exploding one by one, the armsmen scatter into the treeline, scoring a number of near-mortal hits on Gallach. The pilot is forced to drag himself bleeding through the last few feet of waist-high bog, but holds off the advance long enough for Thrane to flank the foe. Tearing left and right with his cumbersome weapon, the reclaimator reaps a path to Bosq, disarming him and burying the snarling blade in his torso. Before he passes out from blood-loss, Gallach croaks through his microbead – the shuttle has been pillaged, and the artefact is already gone.


Entry 2: Taking Wing

Vanth%20Swamp.jpg
[A swampskimmer navigates the mires of Vanth]

[Hunting Ermac]
With the sound of their own breath hissing sharply in their helmets, the acolytes worked urgently to dredge up the House Roth fallen. Already attracting insects and questing tentacles, the muddy corpses are stripped of their equipment, identification, and – miraculously – a still-functioning voxcaster. A plan quickly forms around the lone Roth survivor, who agrees at gunpoint to call in House aircraft to shoot down the Priest-Errant’s shuttle. The acolytes hurry back to the jetboat, listening intently for the sound of gunships passing overhead. Accepting passage offworld in exchange for his loyalty, the new informant Barae reports on the exchange of airforce chatter, noting the coordinates and direction of a Mechanicus flier. They listen as a missile-strike downs the shuttle, but relief turns to worry as the wreckage crashes on a distant cartel Gas-Platform. Knowing that swarms of scav-crews will descend on the site in advance of their arrival, Gallach guns the jetboat to it’s maximum speed.

The anxious journey takes a few hours, with a column of oily smoke glimpsed frequently through the canopy. Across an open area of mist-wreathed swamp, the shadow of the immense, articulated pipes slowly resolve, the rig’s vast underbelly bulging through the low-hanging cloud. Faintly distinguishable overhead, the roar of lander traffic and autogun fire hints at the unfolding chaos on the platform. Scaling the dizzying heights of the rig’s limbs, the acolytes haul themselves up onto the underhanging scaffold. But with uncontrolled cranes wrenching loose and gas-bottles exploding, sections of walkway are being sheared off at random. Jarred from his handhold, Barae plunges nearly 200 meters back down to earth, vanishing into the mire with a meaty gloop. The throne agents press on with little comment.

Bulging through the ruined deck above, the wreckage of the flier is being frenziedly sawed free by riggers. Encircled by Cartel guards, it threatens to tip loose into the waiting depths of the swamp forever. Thrane clamps down the trigger of his scavenged rifle, spraying the area and seeking to scatter the workers. But ducking slightly, they continue their work, with a torrent of fire unleashed in reply by the Cartel guards. Caught without cover, Thrane goes prone as concentrated fire whips overhead, but Garviel and Gallach sprint to the flanks. Shooting on the run, the gunslinger’s bullets shred through flesh and pressurised containment suits, hosing the mesh walkways with liquefied matter. The pilot’s immense naval pistol blasts through the sparse ironwork, carving off limbs as the Cartel forces withdraw. Breaking to flee, the enemy troops are pursued and mowed down by the the two gunfighters. But the artefact has eluded the agents again, with the Priest-Errant's body missing from the wreckage.

Battling through the crowds, the cell make for the uppermost platform of the rig. With gyrohawks and one-man copterchutes taking flight all around, the air is thick with exhaust and darting shapes. Across the flight deck, a Clan Mercy vessel in winding up for take-off, already loaded past capacity with riggers and salvage. Piling into the cargo bay, the blood-drenched agents stare down any attempt to bar their passage, shouldering forward to the cockpit. As the vessel heaves skyward off the buckling deck, the guttering hover-rotors set the platform sinking gently, inexorably, into the clutching mire.

Invoking the authority of their assumed identities, the agents direct the pilot to drop them to the west, where a Mechanicus transponder is signalling for rescue. Hoping to have headed off the Priest-Errant, Thrane and Gallach zipline down into the mist, disappointed to find only a partially sunken jetboat. The Priest-Errant has escaped once more, with the raw stink of promethium-burns attesting to his clash with the bog-men. Hoping to find some clue, the reclaimator seeks to examine the vessel. But he triggers a crude firebomb, and is tackled into the swamp by his comrade to douse the flames. All evidence going up in smoke, the cell return to the flier, making for Aincrad.

Already, wreckage left in the Priest-Errant's wake is evident. Hurriedly switching out the rank-idents on their stolen armour, the Cell confirm his trajectory using preloaded maps and head-off his escape. Emerging at the void moorings, lasfire clangs alarmingly off the surrounding gas cannisters. Realising that a detonation would cripple the entire capital, the acolytes sprint forwards, spotting Mechanicus fanatics firing from a nearby bulkhead. Thrane is hit by haywire, his chainsword clicking uselessly in his hands. But with disciplined fire, Gallach and Garviel double-tap each fanatic, barrelling past and leaping onto the landing-ramp. Struggling against the press of gravity and panicked ratings, the cell emerge onto the bridge, where Priest-Errant looms over the pilot's throne, a pistol clapped to the man's head. Tired of the chase and endless trickery, the cell does not baulk as the zealot executes him. The vessel instantly nosedives, hurling the reclaimator from his feet, while Garviel and Gallach move to point blank range. In a hailstorm of continuous gunfire, the Priest-Errant is ripped into sparking, unrecognisable components.

The incident on Vanth in M41.815 scarcely registered in subsector news, a minor turf clash between an independent Adeptus Mechanicus vessel and the station security of Rogue Trader House Rosh. According to official records, the forces of the local Magistratum and Mechanicus vessel V7A-66 skirmished on Vanth surface and its sub-orbital Aincrad station, resulting in the deaths of a dozen souls, including leaders on both sides. Minor damage was sustained to a cartel asset on world, as well as a freighter at Aincrad. The events would spur a feud between the Mechanicus and House Rosh culminating in M41.850 with the blockade of Rosh assets in the Koronus passage. The Inquisitions influence on events never entered the Imperial records.


Final Report

Suitability Assessment of Cell Raptor for active service - Agent-Assessor Mercutio

  • In successfully recovering the artefact, all agents demonstrate admirable commitment to mission priorities and parameters.
  • Trainees exhibit preference for a covert approach, while generally resolving delays and outside interference forcefully and conclusively.
  • Collateral damage has been moderate to moderately high. Provision of nonlethal weapons and equipment is advisable for future missions and may mitigate these concerns.
  • All agents exhibit an elementary combat capability, suitable for further training and development.
  • Cell agents exhibit fieldcraft, stealth, security, surveillance, repair, first-aid, forensics, piloting, tactics, counter-intelligence, investigation and survival skills at an acceptable level, suitable for further training and development.
  • All agents approved for deployment. Inclusion of a further agent advised to complete skills and combat coverage.

Appendices

Persons of Note

The Cell:

  • Interrogator King: Noblewoman who rose to prominence in the assets of Inquisitor Grendel after betraying her family's potentially heretical business dealings. Transferred to Askellon alongside Grendel as one of his only Interrogators.
  • Lt. Gallach: Ex-Imperial Navy pilot who returned to Askellon after the loss of his wing in the Koronus Expanse. A skilled pilot and soldier, he is passionate about the removal of chaos corruption from Imperial space.
  • Thrane: Mechanicus-trained Reclaimator with expertise in stealth and exotic artefacts. Recruited from Rhodin IV after experience fighting rival scav-gangs.
  • Gavriel Zane: A gunslinger from the frontier world of Plutarch, has proven himself able with his investigative capabilities but is strangely quiet on his reasons for leaving.

Vanth Inhabitants:

  • Agent Mercutio: Formal ship hand who has worked as a "gas guard" on the death world of Vanth for some time. Acts as an informant for the Inquisition on House Rosh and a guide to acolytes who travel to the world.
  • Warmaster Bosq: One-time Master-of-Boarding aboard The Akashi of House Rosh, the ageing Hernando Bosq was forced into a more quiet position to allow fresh blood to step up in the ranks. For over a decade he has overseen the interests of House Rosh on Vanth, effectively controlling the myriad of cartels who operate clandestinely in the Rogue Trader's name. Described as ruthlessly cruel and efficient.
  • Priest-Errant Ermac: A Tech-Priest of the Adeptus Mechanicus leading Errantry Patrol KA-499 tasked with asset and artefact retrieval. Arrived at Vanth aboard the voidship V7A-66 in search of the artefact.

Locations

  • Vanth: Death world run by the Rogue Trader House Rosh. A swamp world, it nevertheless has a small population who retract the Imperial Tithe from beneath the surface of the planet. These citizens live above the world on sub-orbital station Aincrad.
  • Aincrad: Sub-orbital station that dwells above Vanth and houses most of her population. Many ships dock here while passing through the region, while the station contains landers for venturing down to the poisonous world below it.
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