Known as "Old Man Roydon" by most because he keeps a complexion of wrinkles and age, rather than the supple skin of rejuvenated youth, Carluth Roydon is an information broker - the best in the subsector, if he's anywhere near as good as his ego would tell you he is.
To be fair, given his network of spies, infiltrators and eavesdroppers is so vast and deep that it hears everything short of Inquisition secrets - although quite a few of those too - his ego probably isn't exaggerating. As the old adage goes, knowledge is power, and so he is one very powerful man, with rumours of the backing of more than a few Inquisitors, planetary governors and Rogue Traders.
...and myself. He is as suspicious as most about mutantkind, but I can pay handsomely in coin, experience, connections, information of my own or - in exceptional cases - favours, so his greed outweighs his reservations. I also suspect that he cares to know where I am in the sector, although he has yet to be fool enough to sell that information.
However, his acceptance of me is not necessarily shared by his underlings. And so I spent a short while compiling a message requesting an audience, sending it as an encrypted burst transmission tagged with some appropriate hailing and clearance codes.
I wasn’t expecting a response straight away, of course - and indeed, I didn’t get one, which made the rest of my afternoon little more than a fairly exhaustive, yet fruitless, search of my other avenues of information.
But, nonetheless, it took the quiet beep of the ship’s internal vox to draw me out of it. It chirped for a few seconds before it automatically accepted the incoming transmission.
“Hey - Spots? Are you down there?” , came Rae’s voice, slightly crackly through the speaker.
“Yes, I’m down here. But are you ever going to stop calling me Spots?”
“Probably not.” , she laughed, “It suits you so well. But if your mottled tail isn’t so busy we can’t borrow it, we’re missing you at the table.”
I looked up - in quite some surprise - at the chrono on the wall. Indeed, it was far past the ship's evening meal time.
“Saints above. Sorry, I was lost in work.”
“Anything but. I’ll be up there in five.”
“Five?”, she said with a hint of amusement, “I’ll be counting.”
I was forming some sentence about figurative statements when my mouth decided to say something quite different.
“…you know what? You’re on.”
My boredom exploded in a sudden flood. I was on my feet and heading for the door before the saner bits of my mind could tell me it was a stupid idea. As I passed, I slapped the door lock control, although it should have sealed by default when it realised I had left.
With the open corridor offering both a way down and through the hold to the left, and a maze of corridors to the right, I took the gamble of going for the stairs leading down to the cargo bay. It was further, but instinct told me it would be easier to negotiate than the corridors.
That logic was still echoing in my head as the first flight of steps flew past underneath me, clearing them in one leap. Three more sets offered similar resistance to my progress, the ornate rail offering a handhold to swing myself around into each.
This put me on a level where I could get to the cargo bay walkways, and I sprinted around the next two corners. An open cargo bay door, although entirely against ship's protocol, saved me a few seconds. I was in the hold.
Turning back after I had locked the door, I broke into my run again. My boots hit the steel mesh of the walkway solidly, a crude drumbeat in sprint time that provided a brief moment of distraction and curiosity for those on the deck floor below. It had also drawn the disinterested attention of the servitor trudging the walkway ahead towards me, which froze up in the face of unexpected sensory input, blocking my path.
Unwilling to wait around for it to respond to orders, I charged forwards and seeing my chance in the corner of my eye, I sprung up, planting a foot on the handrail. Forcing off hard, I leapt over the barrier, arcing onto the rows of crates below.
I tucked on landing to roll into the impact, flicking my tail around hard to regain my balance on the exit. As I recovered my stride, I passed my gaze over the stacks of crates ahead. Realising they would be much slower to negotiate at ground level, I stayed atop the piles, jumping over the paths left between them as I made my way. I had to dodge a crane winch as it whirred across the hold, but the route proved little trouble otherwise, and it was mere moments later that I flipped down off the last stack, adding the unnecessary flourish for its own sake.
I threw my shoulder into the hold door, straining at the rusting hinges and cursing at the technical servitors until a gap finally levered open. Forcing through, I twisted back and forced myself into the other side until it conceded to grind shut. Yanking on the locking lever almost as an afterthought, I sprang across to the access ladders on the opposite side of the corridor, scaling them
Each floor I passed offered a different snapshot of ship life. Rikeit on the maintenance crew replacing a century old wiring run. Servitors chasing down vermin. An utterly dark and lifeless corridor.
Seven floors later, I clawed my way out of the top of the access tube near the dining hall. Rae was already standing outside the door along the corridor, and I dashed along towards her, at least until I saw her expression.
She was looking incredibly smug, and I didn’t even have to ask if I was late. Petering down to a walk, I looked down at the floor.
“…Damn it. What was the time?”, I muttered.
“Not even close.”, I sighed, “I really thought I could make that.”
I paused for a moment, breathing heavily.
”I shouldn’t’ve done that.”
”… Did you break something?”
"No. It was just stupidly self-indulgent."
”Spots, if anyone deserves to let their hair down once in a while… well, you know what I’m getting at.”
“I do. Anyway, I’m here. Late twice over, but here. Shall we go in?”
She nodded, and lead the way into the hall. The tables were largely empty, although they still would have been even if every crew member were to be dragged in here at once. The ship’s mechanisation has left the remainder of us with a great deal of unnecessary living space.
“What’s the menu?”, I asked by way of conversation.
“Well, I had whatever the stew was. Possibly a bit spicy, but went well with the…”
She was interrupted by someone shouting my name from across the hall. I turned to look at the speaker, who turned out to be Hunt, one of the bridge crew.
“Cralen wants to know how long we’re likely to be in orbit.”
(Cralen is the Ynys’ head navigator. If I’m not mistaken, he had been in charge of our final exit from warp space.)
“Months, probably. It’s not likely to be a short stop. Is he looking for shore leave?”
“I don’t think so. More likely he wants to know how long he can retire to his quarters for.”
“Well, you can tell him he can kick back and drink as much sacra as he likes, as long as he’s not totally pickled when we need to leave.”
There was a smattering of chuckles as I dragged out a chair opposite Tyrell and Carlisa, sitting down next to Rae. I have described the three of them to some extent already, but given their role in the events to come, it is worth elaborating.
Just about out of adolescence at seventeen years old, Rae is pretty tall at most of six feet, but also slight of build, both traits easily attributed to her voidborn nature. However, most of her other voider traits are subtle and easily missed, the extensive range of her ancestry utterly avoiding the inbreeding so typical in the voidborn.
Her face has hints of a youthful version of the guardswoman from whom she ultimately descends, with much the same wry smile, neck length red-brown hair and a green tint to her eyes, although this many generations on, it owes nothing to family resemblance and almost everything to coincidence.
She has a strong desire to impress – often to the point of rashness, but it gives her impressive potential.
Tyrell, by contrast, is little like his ancestors of old. I have already mentioned the stubble building up around his jaw, a light shade of brown like the rest of his short straight hair. While also voidborn, he has a heavily developed and toned physique earned from taking time out to help his wife with her cargo handling duties.
But more importantly, his quick mind and talent for adopting personalities and identities on the fly make him one of my primary “shore crew”, although at times more impulsive than I would perhaps like.
And Carlisa, like many partners taken by the Skoll line, is a worlder. But as that world is the hive world of Pexir, it may go a long way to explaining her daughter's resemblance to her long distant ancestor.
By far the more level-headed of the couple, she serves as one of my head cargo overseers, taking care of the shipments we take as a cover for our moving between worlds.
Several others were still around the tables as well. Further up was Erena, Tyrell's mother. As always, she wore a psy-damper - for her own sake, rather than that of anyone else.
Psychic ability is not entirely uncommon within the Skoll line, showing up every few generations. In Erena’s case, it developed as telepathy, which very nearly cost her sanity. Targeted electrochemical mindscrubbing mostly brought back the girl we once knew, but I know that echoes of it still plague her dreams, and the scarring where she clawed at her own face has never fully healed. To this day, she still seals off her power for fear of what it could do to her.
Two places to my left is Floyd. He has no surname, hailing from a feral world at a cultural state where such things didn't exist. I saved his life about eighty years back, at which point he swore a life debt to me, as was his culture, vowing that he would follow me until such a time as he had repaid the favour. He didn't give me time to tell him that would be a very long wait that would take him amongst the stars.
However, he has taken to his new life like a fish to water. The realisation there was more than just the simple existence he had once lived fascinated him - and nothing more than technology. Far from the stereotype of feral worlders barely knowing one end of a lasgun from another, he has developed an astounding talent for the machine - and it leaves me wondering what miracles he could have achieved had he received full training from a young age.
And near the far end, we have Baika. At least, that's what we call her, as none of us can pronounce her real name, nor she ours. She is of the Typhis race – known for a biskeletal structure, where the armoured exo-layer gives a somewhat insect-like appearance.
Our trouble is that Typhis vocal structures bear not the slightest resemblance to the human larynx, giving them a language more akin to clicks and bubbles – unpronounceable to humans, although mostly understandable.
I looked back at the others, addressing Tyrell first.
“Do you want to lead on this one?”