Wheels within wheels

[Crossposted to paximperium40k, just for fun]

Location: Aboard the Redoubtable, Inner K-H System, Toton Subsector, Ultima Segmentum.

The bridge of the Redoubtable is awash in a multidirectional pale glow from numerous monitors, holo-displays and telltales. It is often difficult to discern where bridge crew end and machinery begins; many of them have been permanently grafted to the warship that is their home and their tomb, embraced in viscera of tubing and braces. Uniformed armsmen stand rigid guard at the doors. The captain, resplendent in a navy blue greatcoat festooned with frogging and fringe, nods his head as the helmsman intones a status report including the headings and ETA of the two warships that are on intercept courses for the Redoubtable.

“Ident confirmed, Captain. Fierce and Stalwart,” the communications officer’s synthetic voice rises above the general hum.

“Hail Fierce and Stalwart and feed them our headings. Direct them to assume formation, configuration Delta Secundus, with Redoubtable at Position Primus,” the captain rests his gloved hands on the arms of his command seat and quietly observes the efficient operation of his crew.

“Captain, the passenger requests permission to enter the bridge.”

“Permission granted,” the captain responds, his voice betraying none of the trepidation that he feels.

A short while later, the port doorway irises open with a hiss. In steps a tall, brown-bearded man wearing a broad-brimmed, pointed hat and long cloak from which depend several purity seals. A mirrored visor conceals his eyes and frames his prominent, hooked nose. He carries an engraved baton in his long-fingered left hand; his right is a sophisticated cybernetic prosthesis with several vials connected to it. Just behind him and to his left floats a worn, yellowed servo-skull into which an assortment of machinery has been built. On the man’s other flank trails a shorter cyborg in a hooded robe and bearing the insignia of the Administratum. His fingers are fitted with writing apparatus, held claw-like at the ready over scroll-arrays projecting from his torso. The captain pays neither the levitating skull nor the lexmechanic any mind; his eyes were only for their master.

“My lord, welcome aboard my ship. We are at your disposal,” the captain rises from his seat and salutes when the newcomers enter the bridge and those members of his crew that are capable of the act follow his example. The bearded man gestures and all but the captain return to their seats. Standing before elaborately uniformed officer, the man’s garb seems simple and even plain.

“Many thanks, Captain Flavius,” his rich voice formal and laced with understated authority, accompanied by the scratching of his scribe’s two-handed transcription. “I have further direction for your squadron. You are to make course for Hesch, where I shall make planetfall in my own vessel. Upon my departure, your ships will assume geosynchronous orbit above the spaceport of Julius Landing with all batteries at full readiness. You shall maintain that position until such time as I shall signal you otherwise, at which point you are to continue patrolling the inner system, not straying outward beyond the Toris Belt save for the direst emergency. I may have further need of you, and would have you within reach.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“I shall now retire to my quarters; I trust that they are still in readiness. Good day, Captain,” with that, the hook-nosed man exchanges salutes with the captain and wheels about to make a swift exit amidst the swirling folds of his long cloak.

*          *            *

Thin smoke rises from candles in the dim lighting of the bedchamber. Pinpricks of light reflect from his metallic finger-joints as the man removes his great hat and tosses it upon the bed, revealing a tight-fitting skullcap containing a fine crystalline latticework and shielded circuitry as well as sigils of power and protection. The visor and inbuilt communicator come off next, settling on the table beside a small brazier from which wafts a pungent yet soothing aroma. He sits before the arrangement of candles, removing a small case decorated with the twin-headed Imperial eagle from a belt-pouch.

“Adept Verdunas, remain silent; I’ll have none of your scribbling right now. You shall record me as I consult the Emperor and then create a transcript after I dismiss you to your quarters with the others,” he speaks softly, for even he does not wish to disturb the calm overmuch. The lexmechanic nods and folds his scroll-arrays away for later use as quietly as he can.

A period of virtual stillness follows, with the man resting his fleshly hand upon the opened box and his eyes closed. In time, he opens his eyes again and withdraws a collection of cards from the case. Their surfaces are glossy and intricate, with a crystalline center layer. He reverently searches through them and selects one; this he sets upon the table, facing himself.

He speaks, softly yet resonantly, “For a signifier, The Magus. Lest I forget.”

Deft fingers shuffle the cards and lay them facedown in a pair of circles radiating around the central card. He slowly, deliberately sets about turning them over in turn, noting the identity of the card’s shifting image and moving on to the next.

“The querent’s lesser opposition: The Warrior, inverted,” he intones in a thoughtful manner as he turns yet another card.

“Let us see where the querent shall find his lesser ally,” he murmurs and reveals the next, a darksome image of a snout-masked and horned figure writhing amidst a tangle of chains and pipes. He narrows his gray eyes and regards this for some time, then speaks, “The Daemon. There is power in this matter, unstable and dangerous.”

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