The boat sped out across the blue sea, swinging around the various islands and through the occasional reefs before stopping at a great spire of rock. From the boat it seemed like it rose arrow straight into the air, the base of it lashed by the waves. On the lee side a small breakwater had been constructed, and a set of stairs wound their way up the side.
As Orchid and Rose set to securing the boat Carmilla and Lientus made their way to the top, their latest girl, Poppy struggling under the weight of a large basket. A light wind blew through the few trees that had made the top of the spire their home, and several dozen large sea birds flew up into the sky, their retreat disturbed by the presence of so many people.
Carm sat cross legged as she watched her husband.Without his jacket or shirt his tattoos were showing, and likewise she had removed her own, the breeze teasing her noticably. Poppy poured wine for the four of them and knelt beside the basket as she looked in at the contents, the strain on her young face apparent, and yet she made no complaint. Carm's eyes took in her husband again, and noticed what looked like four burn marks on his upper arm.
"Husband.... what are those marks? Upper arm?"
"Oh, these? I got these from my last mission.. the one...."
"The one where you destroyed a city?"
"Want to tell me about it?"
"No. When the time is right, maybe. But..."
"Okay. I wont press you."
She looked at him and smiled, leaning back against Rose and closing her eyes. Roses hands slowly massaging her shoulders, a smile on her face as she watch Lientus lean back against Orchid. For a few moments, while Poppy just watched, the two girls continued their massage. Lientus's voice when it came, was quiet.
"There was a smuggler network, operating out of a wormhole cluster, we'd been on their trail for a few months, but never managed to catch any of them. We'd managed to plot most of the wormholes that appeared in the Homroon constellation and had a series of probes watching them. The most we got for three months work was the tagging of a known smuggler, and scans of several capsuleer frigates that left various sites. Blind luck caused the smuggler to be caught and arrested three jumps away, so I made my way there to pick him up."
He knocked back his wine and handed out the glass for a refill, it was shaking slightly.
"So I wasn't there when the freighter jumped out of the wormhole. Well, limped. And when it was boarded, you know what they found? Nothing, no contraband, no drugs, no slaves, nothing. Just a lone survivor. What we found on that wreck would turn your blood to ice. I didn't see it until I got back, and I regret going back."
The Neda System
A few months ago
The Khanid Navy Pilgrim docked at the station orbitting Kuhri III. Already it had been challenged by the local authorities about it's business in system. Police and Navy ships were alerted, the com-channels were burning with traffic and a sense of forboding filled Colonel Lientus. Standing on the bridge he looked over the traffic reports for the system. Something... was wrong. He could feel it.
"Keep the engines warm, I have a feeling we may need to leave here suddenly. Once we are on station no one gets on board this ship, even if they have orders from Fleet Command."
His adjutant nodded and made the relevant notes in the ships log. Lientus pulled on his officers jacket and slung his rifle.
"You not going armoured?"
"No, we're just picking up a smuggler who is in custody. I don't expect there to be any problems."
"Sir, what you expect and what happens... "
"I know. I have a bad feeling about this one. Keep an ear out for our other ships in Neda."
"Oh, one of those feelings again? Damn."
Lientus smiled, and slapped his adjutants arm.
"Come now Caius, you are becoming an old woman."
"Yes Lientus, and I'd like to live to be an old man!"
They both laughed, and it seemed to lighten the oppressive atmosphere on the bridge. All the crew knew that Lientus and Caius went back many years and had fought many battles. They were inseperable, and often the cause of trouble on shore leave. And all of the crew felt safer knowing they were in command.
At the head of his guard of four he walked into the main security section on the station and flashed his credentials at the desk officer.
"I am here to see the smuggler brought in three hours ago. Name of Desiua Quintus Maria, arrested for smuggling."
"Uuuh, that may be difficult...."
"I'm not interested in difficulties, I want to see him now."
"Sir, we have a detain and incinerate order being processed for him, and a confiscation order for his ship and contents. There is an Inquisitor coming in especially for it."
"Detain and incinerate? That hasn't been done for centuries! There are myths about that procedure."
"It shocked us too, son. Come into my office."
Lientus turned and looked up at the uniform of a Fleet Commander and saluted. He was ushered into a large room, guards were stationed around the inside, weapons ready. Several tables were loaded down with what looked like artifacts and trade goods. Desiua was standing in a containment cell, two pistols held directly against his head.
"So son, what is your interest in this man?"
"He is linked to a smuggling gang we are tracking down, sir. If you don't mind, sir, why the detain and incinerate? Isn't that a little extreme for a smuggler?"
The officer grunted, but smiled and walked over to a table and picked up a star shaped object.
"We picked him up because of this."
Lientus held out his hand and felt the weight of the object as it was placed on his palm. The soft soapstone looked like it had been polished by hand, it was star shaped and yet was off centre. In the middle of the star was what looked like a burning eye. It felt cold and he placed it back on the table.
"What is it? I've not seen anything like it before."
"I have no idea. But it was scanned during a routine cargo transfer. It took two hours but the computers eventually flagged it as an interdicted artifact and tried to close the jump gates."
"Is that possible?"
"Not any more, not for a long time I think. I dont even want to think about how old the programming was that caused this to be recognised. Memory storage is supposed to be instant access. To take that long it had to go into deep storage banks, we're talking old school, probably royal or ecclesiastical. Either way, it scares the hell out of me."
"Anything else that is strange about this?"
"Other than this?"
He walked over to another table and picked up a large bag and handed it over. Lientus looked inside then snapped his head up.
"You're kidding? How many?"
"One hundred and seven, not counting the ones he sold that we can't find. We're talking original and modified. We also found ship components, weapon systems. Its a veritable gold mine."
"Sansha. I hate damn Sansha. Any proof that he is a Sansha agent?"
"No. If anything he and all the crew have shown no allegiance to anything other than isk. But that still doesn't let us know how he came into possession of over a hundred damn sansha implants."
"Do you have his logs?"
"Yes, encrypted but we're working on it."
"You mind if I call my ship?"
"If there is a possible Sansha threat I want my team prepared. Smugglers is one thing, a Sansha incursion... Can I talk to him?"
"Yes, but it'll have to be here and quick."
Lientus pulled out his communit and looked over at Desiua. His eyes were fixed on the soapstone star, then they flickered up and looked locked on his own. Desiua started chanting, he looked at the Commander and frowned.
"Don't ask me son. We can't understand him either."
"Eeeyah? Did you check under ancient religions?"
"We did. That's when they said the Inquisitor was coming. Come on now son, we have about thirty minutes."
"Can we interview him here? I mean, it's not likely to make much difference in the end."
The commander shrugged and pulled two chairs over to the table by the and sat down before Desiua.
Desiua sat in the chair before the two officers, rubbing his wrists and looked at them both. The shadows in the room seemed to be growing and at the edge of his hearing he was sure he could hear the drums again.
"So, from what I've been hearing from you guys chattering I'm not long for this world."
"If you can give us what we need, I'm sure I can work something out."
Desiua laughed dryly.
"Please. An Inquisitor is coming. For me. When was the last time you remember hearing about an inquisitor coming for someone who was later released. Alive, mind."
"You have a point."
"So what are you offering?"
"So what are you offering?"
"Talk. Tell us what you know and then we'll make you an offer.
"Okay. I suppose I will have to trust you."
"You are a smuggler working the Homroon constellation?"
He nodded his agreement.
"You were caught with a considerable amount of Sansha implants and equipment. Are you a supporter?"
"Ha, better to deal with the devil direct....."
"And you have this artifact that caused us to notice you...."
Desiua seemed to shiver as the star was brought closer to him and he looked around the room again, the shadows drawing closer.
"You brave men of the Amarr Navy. Much I dare say you have seen in the fulfillment of your ranks. But what do you know of the Gods who ruled before Man? Of the darkness that lurks beyond the keen of mans senses?"
"Hush yourself! I do not want to hear your heresy!"
"No! It's not! It's the trust! And I say it even though my sentence is passed. Nothing you can do to save me from them, and I don't mean the Inquisitors. But I will tell you, both of you, for at least someone should have the knowledge to try and keep them back."
"You are making no sense..."
"Please, let him speak."
Lientus leaned forward, eager to listen.
"I found a wormhole, hidden in a gas cloud. It lead to a system with a single planet. I was the vanguard of our fleet, pirates and smugglers the lot of us, but we were cunning. Enough that you never found us, and deadly enough that not even the sleepers could stop us. When I explored I found there was a great battle underway between two great evils. If the vacuum could have caught fire it would have, with the energies that were being unleashed."
"What... great evil?"
"The Sleepers... and the Sansha."
The Commander snorted and shifted in his chair, noticing as if for the first time the growing darkness in the room.
"So you claim... a smugglers fancy."
"Hush your noise and try and learn something from a damned soul. The battle was long and hard, and the sleepers would have been victorious, were it not for their plantary defence satellites."
"I dont get you, what do you mean?"
"They were all pointing... towards the planet."
To be continued....