An unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Short Story
Written by Riodan O’Duffy
Reading Time: 30 minutes
In the Antila star system, more than twenty millennia ago, the Interex built a great hub of commerce on the system’s fifth planet; but war with the Imperium destroyed their civilization. Ever since, Antila V and its port of Omicron Velorum have changed hands many times. At present, the Antila system lies well outside the Imperium’s zone of control. As such, the free port of Omicron Velorum is frequented by all manner of races intent on commerce and trade. On any given day there can be found Elquon merchant junks, commercial carracks of the Thexian Trade Empire, freighters from the Draxian Hegemony, Donarathi trading barques, and even the occasional Rag and Bone ship from N’Dras. Furthermore, the port is a home away from home for both Aeldari Corsairs and Drukhari Raiders alike; as well as being a haven for human smugglers and Rogue Traders. This makes Omicron Velorum a marketplace for products of all kinds, from basic foodstuffs, to forbidden technology and weaponry. There also exists a trade in rare and exotic artefacts, but few realise the danger in such commerce. Finally, regardless of anyones’ laws or morality, there exists a thriving slave market.
– Inquisitor Jallah Kristina Albuquerque
One green moon and one smaller yellow moon hung in the black sky above Omicron Velorum; bathing the city in a sickly green glow. Arcing street lights spat out pinkish-orange illumination to counter the effects of the moonlight, and the shadows that crept up the narrow streets and alleys. The ancient city was an odd assortment of non-human constructions, asymmetrical spires, off kilter boxes, voluminous domes, and bulbous blobs; each one lit by its own peculiar light. A thick chemical smell hung in the air above the port’s refineries, blending with the stench of rotting sea life coming off the harbour; together they gave Omicron Velorum its own distinctive, tear-inducing odour.
‘Are you sure this is the place, Master Chief?’ asked a wiry, blonde-haired rating.
‘Samboli, we’ve been here plenty of times,’ said the tall, black-skinned master chief. ‘Haven’t we Skipjack?’
‘Indeed we have, Master Chief. Indeed, we have,’ replied the short abhuman enginseer.
Master Chief Fulcrum, being quite familiar with all the dives, diners, brothels, and gambling houses of the spaceport, had decided that The Pain and Pleasure would be their first watering hole; and so, confidently led his two companions across the street to the bar. The Pain and Pleasure, or Úundrek Lú’jiv in the tongue of the Drukhari, was one of the swankier establishments at the Omicron Velorum spaceport. Tucked in between an exotic flesh-sculptor’s body shop, and an Enoulian second-hand technology and avionics store, The Pain and Pleasure was the place to be. Even on a sullen and sultry night like this one, the bar had an air of ruined splendour. Its jagged black spire jutted out over the street, as if intending to fall upon the unwary traveller like a dagger from the shadows.
Blocking access to the bar’s front portal was the massive frame of a Kinebrach bouncer. Under the ultraviolet light of the lumen globes, his large simian face glowed violet-white, while his hair glowed a neon green. Obscura and tabac smoke drifted out of the open entrance.
‘Are you sure this is the place, Master Chief?’ asked Samboli, removing his soft cap and smoothing his hair.
‘Samboli, trust me this is the place,’ answered Fulcrum, tucking his own cap under his epaulette.
‘I wonder if Vúlvai is workin’ tonight? Y’know, I think she likes me?’ said Skipjack, storing his cap in a cargo pocket.
Fulcrum then handed the Kinebrach their entrance fee.
‘Urgh,’ grunted the bouncer, and gave his head a jerk for them to enter.
‘Skipjack, don’t you mean she likes you well enough to poison your drink?’ said Fulcrum stepping through the front portal.
‘Not funny, Master Chief.’
‘Wasn’t meant to be.’
Fulcrum paused to get his bearings, and to scan for signs of their two crewmates who should have arrived earlier. Skipjack smiled as he took in the scene and, with a chuckle, said, ‘Ah, I love the ambience of this place, what with the décor being all late Vect dynasty and all.’
‘I was thinking more…early-to-mid Vect dynasty?’ sniggered Samboli with a hand over his mouth.
Indeed, The Pain and Pleasure did invoke the dark elegance of Commorragh; every bit of the bar was done up in polished jet black, from the floors to the lumen domes that hovered over the tables. The bar’s counter top was made of black opal that gleamed in a rainbow of dark colours. But for all its opulence, there was much less than met the eye. The furniture was cheap and shoddy, and the whole place showed signs of neglect, while the odour of decay seemed to linger in the dark corners.
‘Stop it you two, we just got here,’ said the Master Chief, smacking Samboli’s shoulder with the back of his hand. ‘Be careful of what you say, they speak Low Gothic in this place!’
The owner-operator of The Pain and Pleasure was a former-Drukhari corsair by the name of Tuvoldil the Blind, did indeed speak Low Gothic. But he was known for serving the rarest and most exotic beverages; except that the drinks were always watered down. Unless of course if you paid extra, then you got the finest quality ale, amsec, wine, or t’car available. For the right price, the drinks could be spiked with whatever pharmaceutical you preferred, be it hallucinogen, stimulant, or psychoactive – And for another additional fee, the drink could be delivered to whomever you wanted.
The downstairs was already crowded, filled with the usual type of clientèle found in the spaceport: Aledari Rangers, Thraxians traders, Caecilian psykers, some Tarellian Dog soldiers, and even a handful of Kroot Hunters. Along with an odd assortment of humans from various Rogue Trader and smuggler vessels. The Master Chief and his companions now made their way around the edge of the bar’s curved counter top, avoiding the mass of tables in the centre with their less than friendly xenos occupants. Along the opposite curved wall were alcoves made of faux-obsidian, each filled with a table, above which there hovered a black lumen globe.
‘I see them! There’s Chief Avarga and Narvus sitting at a back table,’ said Fulcrum waving to his companions.
In one of the alcoves at the back of the bar, sat a crewman in blue dungarees; while in the shadows next to him sat a man, whose large hands were the only things visible.
‘Howdy there fellas!’ shouted Skipjack grabbing a stool.
‘Ekei’qy, Enginseer First Class Dalbrobuldimmekson,’ said the blue skinned crewmen putting down his ale. The crewman in the shadows merely bowed his head in acknowledgement.
‘Chief ’Varga, Skipjack took us to this great place to eat. We had something called fajitas!’ said Samboli, starting to slide into the booth.
Fulcrum and Skipjack then said in unison, ‘No!’
‘Samboli, you sit on the outside next to Chief Avarga,’ said the Master Chief.
‘Why do I always gotta sit with my back to the door?’ complained the rating.
’Cause Samboli, so we can use you as cover if the bad guys come through the door,’ answered Skipjack making a pistol out of his hand, and pretending to shoot. ‘Pew, pew, pew!’
‘And because, you’re the lowest rating here…’ said the Master Chief putting a big black hand on his shoulder, as he scooted into the booth next to Narvus. ‘…But just know Samboli, your sacrifice will not have been in vain!’
‘Chief ’Varga? Brother Narvus?’ pleaded Samboli looking at the other two crewmen already at the table.
Narvus made no reply, except to pick up his flagon of black ale. It, along with his large hand, then disappeared back into the shadows.
However, Avarga turned his noseless blue face to the rating and said, ‘No worries Voxcast Operator Third Class Beaubein, I will see that no harm comes to you, my vesa.’
‘Thanks Chief,’ said Samboli sitting on the stool as the Tau firewarrior poured him a glass of ale.
All five crewmen at the table that night, wore the same blue dungarees bearing the patch of the Star of Damocles on the left shoulder. Skipjack’s dungarees also bore the skull and cogwheel sigil of the Adeptus Mechanicus on the right shoulder. But all of them were there that night because Captain Hildiwara had brought the Star of Damocles to the Omicron Velorum space docks for a refit and resupply. This was their first planetfall in quite sometime, and for that they were much appreciative.
A Drukhari barmaid named Amalpusi approached the crew’s table bearing more glasses and flagons of black ale. She wore skintight black leather that was slashed to reveal midriff, curves and cleavage, and a pair of spiked knee-high boots. Her kilometre-high magenta hair was shot through with lethal hair pins and hidden blades. Amalpusi laid down the tray, and then with a sneer and a snap of her boots, walked away. Samboli kept his head down, Avarga didn’t turn his head, while Narvus simply retrieved his refill. Master Chief just gave off a bemused chuckle. Only Skipjack laid eyes on the Drukhari woman, keeping a target lock on her slender backside, as she sashayed her way back to the bar.
‘If you’re wondering Skipjack, that ain’t Vúlvai,’ said Fulcrum.
‘I know, Vúlvai is the one with the green hair,’ said Skipjack stroking his beard. ‘Y’all know, I braided my beard just ’cause we was comin’ here tonight?’
‘And doused yourself with enough smell purty to choke an Ambull from three metres away!’ said Samboli holding his nose and pretending to gag.
‘Samboli, you’re pert near to gettin’ yer ownself in trouble!’ replied Skipjack, putting a gnarled hand on the table.
‘Woah, woah give the young man a break there Enginseer! We all know what temper dwarves have, but is it worth it?’ said Fulcrum, throwing an arm out between Skipjack and Samboli. ‘Besides, sitting right here next to you, I can attest to the, ah, potency of your cologne!’
The enginseer leaned back and crossed his arms, his face as hard as flint.
‘Enginseer Gimrak Dalbrobuldimmekson, please let go of this small offence,’ said Avarga looking at Skipjack. ‘We are here, after all, to relax and enjoy one another’s company, are we not? Would you do this for me, vesa?’
‘If Samboli will up and apologize…maybe?’ he replied, looking away.
‘Beaubein, do you apologize?’ asked Avarga.
Samboli made a face like he was being asked to kiss a squig, but then offered a hand to Skipjack and said, ‘For you Chief ’Varga, I’ll apologise.’
‘I accept…’ said Skipjack taking the proffered hand and shaking it. ‘…But, just for your sake Chief Avarga,’ he said, nodding to the firewarrior.
‘Ow! Did you have to squeeze so hard Skipjack?’ said Samboli shaking his hand.
‘Yep, “I’m sorry” don’t mean nuthin’ ’less it hurts!’
‘Alright you two, are we good?’ asked Fulcrum looking at both Skipjack and Samboli.
Samboli shook his sore hand and nodded his head, but Skipjack just shrugged.
‘You are not holding any grudges are you, Mister Dalbrobuldimmekson?’ asked Avarga.
‘None,’ said Skipjack, shooting him a glance from beneath his unibrow.
‘So, we’re all good?’ asked the Fulcrum one final time. ‘That’s good, because I want to say a few words.’
All eyes were now on the Fulcrum, who rubbed a thumb across his wide black moustache. Standing up, he spoke with a serious air, ‘I want to take the opportunity to make a toast. Everyone, lift your glasses…’
The crew all lifted their glasses.
‘To the most beautiful ship in the Rogue Trader fleet, and to the greatest vessel that ever sailed the void, the Star of Damocles! To the most cunning and wiliest Rogue Trader captain that ever lived, Captain Hildiwara Guillory-Garfanini! And to the best damn frakking crew I have ever had the privilege of serving with!’
The crew all clinked their glasses together and drank deeply.
‘And to the newest member of our crew, and one helluva damn fine soldier, Shas’Nvre’Avarga!’ said Fulcrum.
‘Hear, hear!’ and ‘Huzzah!’ was heard along with knuckle rapping and table pounding. Avarga stood up and made a half-bow to his fellow crewmen.
‘You forgot one chief, ‘To the most beautiful Rogue Trader captain that ever commanded a ship!’ said Samboli looking over his shoulder at Avarga.
‘And to the sexiest damn captain there ever was!’ said Skipjack also glancing at the firewarrior.’
‘Those are both damn fine points, how the hell could I have forgotten to mention them?’ said Fulcrum. But then giving Avarga a thoughtful glance he added, ‘And to the bravest man, human or otherwise, to have ever shared her bed.’
‘Huzzah!’ they all shouted clinking glasses with Avarga. The firewarrior’s cheeks blushing a deep cerulean, as they finished their ale.
A rowdy, drunken mob began shoving their way into the already crowded bar; their leader shouted, ‘The Empress of the Void is in the house!’ The leader, a tall pale-skinned man in emerald green dungarees, looked around the bar and shouted, ‘Look who’s here everybody? We’ve got crew from the Star of Damocles!’
The man and his retinue then made their way to the back of the bar, where they relieved five Caecilians of their table. Looking up as he yanked the stool out from beneath one of the frog-like amphibians, he yelled, ‘Frak me, if it isn’t that low life Master Chief Fulcrum! Tully how the hell are you doing?’
‘Chief Verner Pendergaste, I could tell it was you by the smell! Pew, your body odour precedes you!’ yelled Fulcrum, waving his hand as if to clear the air.
The two men then shook hands as another crewman, a stout red haired female in a blue and white imperial naval uniform, came and stood next to Pendergaste.
‘Master Chief Fulcrum, you know Ensign Faiga from our bridge crew?’ asked Pendergaste.
‘Sure I remember her,’ he replied shaking her hand.
‘Oh, look Verner, it’s true. They do got themselves a Bluie!’ she said, drunkenly pointing at Avarga.
‘Shas’Nvre’Avarga is the newest addition to our crew, but you can just call him Chief Avarga,’ said Fulcrum.
Pendergaste and Faiga both reached out and shook hands with the Tau firewarrior.
‘Heard you was bangin’ Captain Hildiwara! Guess she likes the blue willy, eh?’ laughed Faiga.
Upon hearing this, Samboli’s face went white, Skipjack’s eyes went wide, and a large hand shot out of the shadows to take the firewarrior by the shoulder. Even Fulcrum gave Avarga a look of concern.
‘No comment, Ensign,’ was all Avarga said.
‘Hmm, that’s a sensitive subject with this one! Guess, we bedda leave well enough alone then, eh Verner?’ said Faiga, grabbing her chief’s arm.
‘Xenos love! What’s the Imperium coming too?’ laughed Pendergaste, all the while winking at the firewarrior. Then nudging him with his elbow he said, ‘Besides, Chief Avarga, that’d be heresy, right? And we wouldn’t want to get your captain in trouble!’
Things got quiet at the Star of Damocles’ table, that you could hear the Caecilians, making low barking noises at the bar.
‘Ooh, and he’s got himself a full head of luxurious black hair too. And I thought the Bluies all shaved their heads, just leavin’ a little bit for a queue?’ said Faiga, reaching over to pinch a loose strand of hair from the back of his head. Now running her fingers through his goatee she cooed, ‘Ooh, and facial hair too! I bet Captain Hildwara loves that!’ Leaning over to get a closer look at him, she murmured into his ear, ‘And I’m sure she loves those turquoise eyes of yours don’t she?’
‘C’mon luv, let’s sit down and have a drink,’ said Pendergaste, taking her by the arm and dragging her over to their table.
At the Star of Damocles’ table, all eyes were now on Avarga, who sat as still as a rock.
Samboli whispered out of the corner of his mouth, ‘Skipjack, do I get under the table now?’
Skipjack whispered back, ‘No.’
The small group from the Empress of the Void sat down at the table, joined by a large Ogryn wearing a pair of tiny round glasses, and smoking a foul smelling cigar. Before Faiga sat down, she wiggled her butt in Avarga’s direction, and in a loud stage whisper, said, ‘I wouldn’t mind gettin’ a bit of blue willy meself. Heard this Bluie’s got himself a wicked thrust!’
There was a burst of laughter from the Empress of the Void table. Pendergaste stood up and, catching Avarga’s eye, mimed making vigorous pelvic thrusts and slapping a woman’s backside. The table roared with laughter again.
Chief Fulcrum leaned back, and crossing his arms, asked Avarga, ‘How you doing there, Chief?’
Meanwhile, Samboli’s face had gone from red with embarrassment to white with fear, and with sweat running down his cheeks, he asked, ‘Chief ’Varga, you’re not going to start anything, are you? Please say you’re not!’
‘Chief, y’all know them boys and girls from the Empress of the Void are frakken’ idiots, don’t ya?’ asked Skipjack.
‘I have faith in our Shas’Nvre Avarga,’ said Narvus from the shadows.
‘Nuni’qy, brother sergeant,’ replied Avarga, glancing at him from the corner of his eye.
Just then someone reached past their shoulders to place a bottle of golden liquor in the middle of the table. ‘By way of an apology, a little present of amsec. Just to let you know we’re all friends here,’ said Pendergaste nodding to Avarga.
Surprised at the gift, Avarga merely bowed his head in reply.
And as Pendergaste left to go sit down, the whole table let out a collective sigh. Samboli knocked back the last of his ale, and with foam still on his upper lip, said, ‘Chief ’Varga, even when you’re sitting there all quiet like, you scare the frakking hell outta me!’
It was the turn of the Star of Damocles’ table to burst out laughing.
‘Are we good then, Chief?’ laughed Fulcrum, rubbing his moustache.’
‘Dao, Master Chief,’ laughed Avarga, his upper lip curling into a Tau smile.
Fulcrum signalled to the barmaid for shot glasses to be brought over. This time the barmaid was Vúlvai, who sauntered over with all the enthusiasm of someone having to give mouth-to-mouth to an Ork. She leaned over to set down the glasses and, while doing so, draped her long teal-green hair over Avarga’s head and neck. Standing up, she removed a lacquered hair pin and dropped it on the table in front of him. But then walked away as if nothing had happened, her body length hair swishing side-to-side with the rhythm of her tight Aeldari buttocks.
Samboli looked mortified, Skipjack made a face like somebody had stolen his toolbox, and as usual, Narvus said nothing. Fulcrum looked over at Avarga and said, ‘Chief, believe me when I say, you don’t want to tap that.’
‘No intention of doing so, Master Chief,’ he said, picking up the hairpin and carefully laying it in the centre of the table.
Fulcrum broke open the bottle of amsec and poured each of them a glass. However, before they could drink, Pendergaste shouted from the next table, ‘Well, Chief Avarga, I heard you hail from this side of the Damocles Gulf? Is that true? Because that’s a mighty long way from here.’
‘Damn it all to hell! Don’t that boy know when to leave well enough alone?’ groused Skipjack furrowing his unibrow.
Avarga merely raised an eye ridge, and turning towards Pendergaste said, ‘Yes, Chief. I’m from the sept world of Vior’los, in what the Imperium calls the Farsight Enclaves.’
‘Which means you’re kinda like a Tau rebel, right? You’re one of them Bluies who don’t take any shite from those Tau chaplains. What do you lot call ’em? Uh…Ethereals? Yeah, that’s it Ethereals! Heard your Generalissimo Farsight stood up to that Ecclesiarch of the Void Aun’Va. Told him to take the Greater Good and shove it up his azure arse. Boy, what a guy!’
‘Whada guy!’ yelled the Ogryn slamming his hand on the table and laughing much too loudly.
‘Hell yes, Rolo! And that Bluie Farsight knows how to kick Ork arse too!’ shouted a blonde haired crewman.
Avarga uncurled his lip, and setting down his amsec, put both hands on the table.
‘Chief,’ said Fulcrum leaning forward.
‘Yeah, you Bluies don’t have to put up with those Tau religious freaks and their…mind control!’ Pendergaste made wiggling motions with his fingers, while at the same time whistling eerie-like sounds. Then laughing out loud he said, ‘Yep, none of their pheromones…or mind conditioning…or indoctrination…or do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do crap! No more kowtowing in the middle of a battle to the Great Space Poo-bah himself Aun’Va…’
Avarga’s face went blank and his turquoise eyes began to lose their colour.
‘Chief Avarga listen to me,’ said Fulcrum, putting his hands on the table.
‘And who wouldn’t want to run like hell from the Tau Empire anyway? If you’re a Bluie, you gotta kiss some gorram Ethereal’s backside. And kill yourself if they tell you too, or kill your best mate if they tell you too. Hey, didn’t Farsight have to kill his old teacher, Puretide? No, wait…that was Brightsword wasn’t it?’
Avarga’s eyes were now entirely indigo.
‘Shas’nvre this ain’t worth it,’ said Fulcrum, leaning over the table.
‘And if you’re human, it’s come and join the Greater Good! We got clean air, free health care, education for all, but most of all, we got freedom! Then, once you’re in the door, it’s all mass deportations, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Ethereals and the Greater Good, they’re sure one big frakking lie…’
‘Master Chief, I must respond to this. Please do not stop me,’ said Avarga standing up.
‘Okay Samboli, you can get under the table now,’ said Skipjack putting a hand up to his face. There was a bit of ruckus as Samboli scrambled underneath the table.
‘So, that’s it then, Chief? You just gotta defend the old country? Get a “hoof in” for the Greater Good? And for the Ethereals that you really don’t like anyway?’ asked Fulcrum, staring into the Tau’s indigo blue eyes.
‘For the Tau’va Master Chief? Yes.’
Avarga stepped up to the Empress of the Void table and stood between Pendergaste and Faiga.
‘Chief, I don’t think the Tau chief here likes what you’re saying?’ said a tall, bald crewman. They all turned around to look at the firewarrior.’
‘Why is that?’ asked Pendergaste, standing up. But getting a good look at Avarga, he said with genuine surprise, ‘Woah, you’re not a weedy little fellow are there you, Chief? Hell, you’re even taller than I am!’
‘No truer words have ever been spoken Gue’la.’
‘Alrighty-y, he just used the “g-word”. Any room under there Samboli?’ said Skipjack, ducking under the table.
‘So, why would you be bothered by us taking the piss out of the Ethereals?’ asked Pendergaste, looking around the room. ‘You and yours don’t like ‘em? The Ethereals, I mean. Hell, we don’t like ’em either,’ he said, offering his hand for Avarga to shake. But Avarga didn’t respond to his offer, but instead stood there quietly.
‘How about it, Chief Avarga?’
Avarga shot a low kick straight into Pendergaste’s right knee cap, and the leg bent backwards with a loud crack. Grabbing the human by the hair, he slammed him face first onto the table, exploding the human’s nose in a spray of red blood. Pulling him onto his feet by his hair, Avarga intertwined his right arm with Pendergaste’s right arm, and with a quick twist, dropped to his knees, popping the shoulder of its sock. The chief from the Empress of the Void screamed like a dying Grox. And all of this happened, before any of his fellow crewmen could even put their drinks down.
Letting go of Pendergaste’s arm, Avarga turned and punched Ensign Faiga rapidly in the head several times. She dropped to the floor without as much as a yelp. The blonde crewman to her right tried to react, but in his haste, went over backwards on his stool. Avarga turned next to the tall bald man sitting next to Pendergaste’s left. The man pushed off from the table, only to have Avarga throw a high kick at his head. The bald man’s quick reflexes meant the kick missed, but then he grabbed the side of his face shouting, ‘Frak me!’
Blood gushed from a long gash on the right side of his face. The titanium steel blade on Avarga’s left spur having found its mark. Avarga then proceeded to move left around the table towards Rolo the Ogryn.
The blond crewman was now up, pulling the Ogryn to his feet as the two of them faced off with Avarga. The initiative was with the firewarrior as he shot a forward kick into the man’s abdomen. The blonde man doubled over and dropped to the floor. Turning to Rolo, Avarga slammed his forehead into the bridge of the Ogryn’s nose. There was a loud thwack sound as all at once, Rolo’s glasses broke, his nose flattened, and he swallowed his cigar. The Ogryn staggered backwards, and fell over onto the next table, collapsing it flat.
Further to the right, Faiga, still on the floor, drew her laspistol, but the bald man was up and back in the fight. Bleeding profusely, and with one hand on his cheek, the man had managed to yank free his bolt pistol. Quickly assessing the situation, Avarga picked his target and moved swiftly back towards the bald man. Slamming a hoof into the man’s groin, he took the man down, bolt pistol and all. With the table now safely between himself and the ensign, Avarga then calmly moved around behind her. On her back, Faiga tried to roll over and shoot, but her intoxicated aim was off and the shot went wild. One of the hovering lumen globes exploded in a shower of black glass.
The blond crewman next to Fagia staggered back to his feet, but Avarga dispatched him with a roundhouse kick to the head. Meanwhile, Fagia was desperately trying to get a bead on the firewarrior, popping off shots in all directions. Everyone in the bar dived for cover as the Drukhari barman screamed in Low Gothic, ‘No bolters in the bar mon-keigh! No bolters in the bar!’
Avarga now was close enough to take the laspistol out of her hand with a sweeping kick. Disarmed and crying in fear, the ensign lay cowering on the floor. Avarga stood over her watching her whimper; but gave her a swift kick to the abdomen to silence her. As a parting gesture, he drove the blade of his right spur into her left eye, and yanked it out sideways. She was still screaming, when he stepped over her to get to Pendergaste.
Pendargaste had slipped off the table and was precariously balancing himself on a stool, in a vain attempt to keep his right arm and leg clear of the floor. Avarga grabbed him by the scruff of the collar and slammed him back down on the table. He screamed in pain; but screamed even louder, when Avarga flipped him onto his back. Getting down to cradle the human’s head in the crook of his arm, Avarga drew his dirk, or mont’myr, from his belt. Ramming it into the table close to Pendergaste’s neck, he then levered it down, until the blade touched the man’s throat. ‘All I have to do is put my weight on the blade, and I will cut your head off, as easy as if I was slicing bread. Understand, Gue’la?’
Pendergaste gurgled his understanding and stared up in fear at Avarga.
‘T’ah, what can I say that will get you to understand, Gue’la? You may not know this, but before the coming of the Auns or the Ethereals, we Tau were…how you do your people say it? A nasty piece of work? Yes, that’s it! We were a nasty piece of work. Tribe fought against tribe, nation against nation, and dynasty against dynasty. Until at last, there was only war…’
Pendergaste blew blood bubbles from his shattered nose, and he rolled his eyes trying to follow Avarga’s words.
‘Gue’la, why, you would not recognize us back then. We were all savages, brutal and uncivilized! That was of course before the Auns arrived, and gave us Tau’va or The Great Path. Or as you call it in your language The Greater Good…’
Pendergaste started to give off muffled screams, so Avarga lowered the dirk enough to draw blood. Through gritted teeth plates, he yelled, ‘Shut up Gue’la! I am still talking, and I need your undivided attention!’
Pendergaste choked off his moaning and went quiet.
‘But these days Gue’la, we’re all neat, clean and civilized! The very model of an enlightened intergalactic race. Why our motto is now, “Unity and Equilibrium, Progress and Growth”. And we are all about peaceful coexistence and cooperation. And why is that? Because of the Ethereals and their teachings on The Great Path, of course. Still, you would not want to see us when there are no Ethereals around. You really, really would not want to see us then.’
Avarga tightened his grip on Pendergaste’s head, and with his indigo black eyes staring down into those of the human, he whispered, ‘But guess what, Gue’la? My people do not have Ethereals.’ And pressing the dirk even tighter to the human’s throat he said, ‘That is correct, in the Enclaves there are no Auns; which makes us out-and-out savages. And do not take my word for it. Just ask our brothers from the T’au Empire, who call us the O’res’la – Heroic Barbaric Beings! Just as if we were Orks. And so without any Ethereals around, Gue’la, you have no idea what we might do. Why we are liable to break your knee cap, or slam your face into a table, or maybe even dislocate your shoulder. Snae’ta, we might even put a knife to your throat, and threaten to cut your head off? Why-we-could-do-just-about-anything!’
And with that final word, Avarga flicked the blade across Pendergaste’s throat.
‘Aaargh!’ screamed the human clutching at his throat, blood pouring from between his fingers.
‘Shut up, Gue’la, I did not cut deep enough to even nick the carotid artery,’ said Avarga, wiping his blade on the corner of the human’s jacket.
Word of the fight had reached other crew members of the Empress of the Void, and a large mob of them burst into The Pain and Pleasure. Barrelling their way to the back of the bar, they stopped when they saw the bleeding bodies on the floor. A brown-skinned chief yelled, ‘What the frak happened here?’
‘Chief Pendergaste and his party needed a lesson in courtesy and respect,’ said Master Chief Fulcrum, stepping up alongside Avarga. He was joined by Skipjack on his right and Samboli on his left.
‘Frak the Bluie, Master Chief! He attacked our Chief Pendergaste…’
‘It’s Chief Olufaso isn’t it?’ asked Fulcrum. ‘Well, Chief Olufaso you should know that Pendergaste here was bad-mouthing our Chief Avarga and his Tau culture…’
‘Hey, frak the Bluie and his gorram frakking xenos culture! Let us have him, Fulcrum, or we’re stomping the frak out of you too!’ yelled Olufaso. The crew from the Empress of the Void drew their riggers’ knives or broke bottles to make weapons – all of them were itching for a fight.
A deep rumbling voice filled the bar. ‘I think not.’
There, standing behind Fulcrum and Avarga, was the massive frame of Brother Sergeant Narvus, the top of his head just clearing the lumen globes.
‘Frak me! You have a Black Shield Astartes?!’ said the chief from the Empress of the Void.
‘That’s right we do! And Narvus ain’t one of them new fangled, fancy-pants marines either, he’s a real Space Marine!’ shouted Skipjack.
‘Those are not good odds, chief,’ said Avarga pointing his knife at him.
Olufaso and the crew of the Empress of the Void looked around and saw that most of the xenos patrons of the bar had joined the crew of the Star of Damocles: the Kroot, Thraxians, Aeldari, and the Tarellians. Even the Caecilians had joined them with broken bottles and legs snapped off barstools as they croaked their enthusiastic approval of a potential bar fight.
‘Frak me! Frak me! Frak me! They’ve got Tau, Astartes, Aledari, Kroot and Caecilians on their side! What about the rest of you humans? Are you with us, or with the xenos lovers?’ yelled Olufaso.
The answer he got was not the one he expected. The human patrons either sat quietly at their tables, or got up and stood next to the crew of the Star of Damocles. One female chief in yellow dungarees shouted back, ‘Hey chief, why don’t you just frak off now!’
‘Listen up all of you from the Empress of the Void! You’ve got a bad bunch here that crossed the line, and they paid the price for it. So, it’s time for you to move out!’ shouted Fulcrum. Then pointing to the bar he said, ‘And if you thought the odds were bad before, well those Drukhari over there have got splinter rifles aimed at you. So, you might just want to pick up your garbage and get the hell out of here before they commence firing.’
Sure enough, the Dark Aeldari barman and his two barmaids, had splinter rifles aimed at the crew from the Empress of the Void. Seeing the inevitable outcome of the situation, the crew in green dungarees hoisted up the bodies of their bleeding companions and began shuffling out of the front entrance. The entire bar burst out in cheers and clapping for Chief Avarga. Who, in Tau fashion, just responded with a bow.
It was while the cheering was going on that Skipjack walked up to Rolo the Ogryn, whose fellow shipmates were having a hell of a time getting him off the floor.
‘Well, looky who’s still awake!’ said Skipjack, leaning over him.
‘Aye, I am,’ he muttered looking up through the broken frames of his tiny glasses.
‘Well, that’s not bad. Usually, when Chief Avarga headbutts an Ork Nob, he knocks him out cold!’
‘Ooh, then I’m bedda than an Ork Nob, eh? That’s grand!’ replied Rolo. With that, they managed to get him off the floor and onto his feet. As Skipjack watched Rolo stagger out of the bar, a shipmate under each arm, Fulcrum was settling the bill with the barman at the other end of the bar.
‘I know, I know, “Sorry for the mess!” That’s what all of you mon-keigh say when you come in here,’ said the bald Drukhari barman, still holding his splinter rifle.
‘I think that should cover it?’ said Fulcrum, handing him a dataslate.
The Drukhari raised an eyebrow, and handed the dataslate to his barmaid Amalpusi.
‘If the black mon-keigh is going to pay you this much, then why not charge him more?’ she said, speaking in Aeldari. There was an exchange of small gestures between the barman and the barmaid before they noticed that, standing behind the Master Chief, were two Aeldari Rangers. Standing cloaked, masked and with hands on their knives, the two communicated by body posture alone that the offer was final. So, the Barman put a thumb on the corner of the dataslate and handed it back to Fulcrum with a sneer.
Meanwhile, Avarga was standing there quietly, receiving compliments and congratulatory handshakes from the other Rogue Trader crews, as well as congratulatory signs from the other xenos, with the Caecilians being the most vocal with their croaks of approval. When Avarga’s eyes had regained their natural turquoise colour, and the well-wishers had finally come and gone, he glanced up at Narvus and asked, ‘Walk with me, brother sergeant?’
‘After you, shas’nvre,’ replied Narvus, following Avarga out of the bar.
Meanwhile, the female chief in the yellow dungarees walked up to Skipjack and Samboli and asked, ‘Why didn’t you two back up your chief? What were you cowards hiding from, under the table?’
Skipjack and Samboli looked at each other.
‘Shrapnel,’ said Skipjack.
‘Eyeballs,’ said Samboli pulling on his soft cap.
‘You know, the usual kind of stuff,’ said Skipjack, slapping his cap against his leg before putting it on.
Outside The Pain and Pleasure, Avarga and Narvus saw the Kinebrach bouncer watching an orange-coloured Tarellian hacking a human to death. Another human already lay dead on the pavement, his bloody intestines strewn across the pavement. A couple of other humans ran crashing into food vendors or other pedestrians in an attempt to flee.
‘What is going on?’ asked Avarga.
‘Hooman junkees try to murder Tarellian. So Tarellian hez kilt dem,’ said the Kinebrach, pointing with a large violet-white hand.
‘You wished to speak to me?’ said Narvus, turning to Avarga.
‘Your earlier faith in me was unfounded, brother sergeant.’
‘How so, shas’nvre?’ asked Narvus, looking down at the firewarrior.
‘I lost my self-control and overreacted with Pendargaste and his crew. Discernment would have led me to recognise their words and actions as those of ignorant children. Children who were also under the influence of intoxicants. Discretion would have permitted me to let their comments slide. Compassion would have led me to understand their predicament, and so not overreact. This was not The Path.’
‘Even for Astartes, there are times when honour dictates action.’
‘I did my utmost to cause injury,’ replied Avarga.
‘You maimed but did not kill. That is significant.’
‘But was it honourable, brother sergeant?’
‘Hmm.’ Narvus did not speak for a time, but then he said, ‘Those humans insulted your ancestors and their teachings. In doing so, they insulted the tau’faan of the Enclaves. Honour dictated that they should die.’ Then, looking at Avarga, he said, ‘That you stayed your hand was compassion enough for them.’
Avarga bowed to Narvus, and the space marine bowed his head in return.
‘What’s going on, Master Chief?’ asked Samboli, as he and Skipjack exited the bar.
‘Frak if I know?’ said Fulcrum, shaking his head. ‘I always feel like I’m an outsider when the two of them are talking, even when they’re speaking in three-word sentences. It’s like I’m a little kid again, and the adults are talking. I hear what they’re saying, but I just don’t understand what any of it means, because it just all goes over my head.’
Avarga recovered from his bow to see Narvus was pointing behind him. Turning around he saw a band of Kroot Hunters waiting there patiently. A husky aroma of spice and musk permeated the air, which the firewarrior knew was their way of showing approval. Their leader placed his long blue arm alongside Avarga’s blue hand saying, ‘The hue is an almost perfect match, don’t you think, shas’nvre?’
‘Indeed it is,’ he said bowing to them. ‘Reka Hunt Leader Vulyk to you and your kindred.’
‘Nunco’qy, Shas’Nvre’Vior’los Avarga Kunas Sum’saro Kisun’xarok,’ replied Vulyk as he and his band rattled their quills in approval. Then bowing he said, ‘We shall see you later, back on the Star of Damocles, shas’nvre.’
‘Good evening then, Hunt Leader.’
‘They did that to honour you?’ asked Narvus as he watched the Kroot move away.
‘Change their colour you mean? Yes, they did.’
Then both of them turned when they heard the Fulcrum exclaim, ‘Damn Vulyk, I didn’t know you and your kindred were here? Glad you were there to back us up!’
‘Fate has led us to the same hunting ground, Master Chief Fulcrum. And we were pleased to watch Chief Avarga’s prowess in battle,’ replied the Kroot, opening his arms wide and clacking his beak.
The two Aeldari Rangers seen earlier exited The Pain and Pleasure. Avarga waved them over saying, ‘Elbryn, we never knew you were in the building?’
‘My dear Avarga, that was intentional. You weren’t supposed to know we were there,’ said the golden-haired Pathfinder, pulling down his half-mask to speak. Then laughing, he said, ‘We knew that this was your first time at Úundrek Lú’jiv, and we wanted to see what trouble the blue séjen-éka would get himself into.’
‘We slipped in right behind you, but none of you ever noticed,’ said Lenbala, the dark-haired Ranger; but then she produced the lacquered hair pin that Avarga had left on the table. And taking the firewarrior by the collar of his dungarees, wove the hairpin in and out of the flap of his left breast pocket. Patting it down to secure it, she said, ‘Shas’Nvre Avarga, one never turns down a favour given to them by an Asuryani woman, whether be she Aeldari or Drukhari. But especially if she is a Drukhari woman! Had you left Vúlvai’s hairpin on the table, the next time you visited the Úundrek Lú’jiv, she would in all likelihood have poisoned you.’
‘Reka,’ answered the firewarrior, looking at her wide-eyed.
‘Well mates, where to now?’ asked Fulcrum, stepping up to the group.
‘Are Vulyk and his Kroot coming with us?’ asked Samboli.
‘Nah, they’re heading back to the ship, or least I think they are?’ he replied.
‘If y’all want to keep drinking, we can head back to the Cantina de Felix? The cerveza is good; and if any y’all haven’t eaten, they got the best damn carne asada tacos. And tamales too!’ said Skipjack. ‘What are we all doing then?’
‘Your victory, your choice, Chief Avarga?’ said Fulcrum.
‘Xhmm,’ said Avaraga, making a guttural sound. ‘I could drink some more, but I have also never eaten tacos. Tacos then?’ he answered.
‘Then Cantina de Felix it is!’ said Skipjack with a wink.
About the Author
In the grim darkness of the upper mid-western US, on the storm driven shores of the great inland sea called Anishinaabewi-gichi-gami, lies an underground bunker. Within its depths is where you’ll find Mr. O’Duffy, spending his time writing Warhammer 40,000 fiction, as well as works of Gothic Horror, and Fantasy. When not writing, Mr. O’Duffy continues his fight for truth, justice and the American Way.