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"You mean we've finally found it?"
"No, I've finally found it," Alexis replied, with the emphasis on the pronoun. Both of the men were bathed in the harsh green glow of the opticon screen, looking with a measure of lust at the hulk that they had found floating in a dust cloud. To emphasise where they were, the hull of the Orestes shook once more as the pilot of the small converted freighter fought to keep them on station. Nepto glanced quickly at Alexis, and wished he hadn't. He had seen that look in so many men's eyes before; the look of sheer, unbridled greed. And he knew why.
McGregor Salvors, which Alexis owned, had set up and persevered with, was about to go bust. In desperation Alexis had taken on increasingly hazardous jobs salvaging ships with any value of cargo, only to find that he was only barely below making ends meet, which had led him to take on this job.
The Carl Hirschberg was a heavy freighter. And when the Imperium labelled things heavy, it meant it. Fully two kilometres long end to end, its blunt shape was an easy rival to a light cruiser. And packed to the gills with military stores, according to legend, that had been destined for the Cadia from Stygies. The records showed that it had inadvertently dropped out of the warp while in convoy, signalling to the escort commander that it was experiencing engine difficulty and needed urgent repairs; with a promise to proceed to Cadia with all haste. It was never heard from again.
"Get the crew ready for a boarding party and search," said Alexis, his voice ringing out across the bridge, "Calvert, take us alongside! And detail some hands to set about a tow!" Alexis marched swiftly past Nepto, humming a happy tune and rubbing his hands with glee as a voice boomed out overhead to summon the crewmen needed. Nepto looked on things more critically. The reason no one else had tried to salvage this ship was because it was in the heart of an Eldar corsair system, and the only way that Alexis had got the crew of his own ship to go this far in-system was the attraction of triple basic rates plus the companies standard hazard pay. He couldn't afford more than the one ship in-system, and the other two purpose-loaned warp capable tugs were currently hanging around at the edge of the system near the warp jump point, which meant a towing period of at least a week to just get to the system edge. He sighed, and followed Alexis down to the armoury, a scant six decks below the bridge, next to the exterior airlock. The preferred method of traversing this distance, downhill at least, was to take a staircase, down which the two men scrambled, filling the shaft with an empty metallic clatter as their boots slapped on the steps, before sweeping into the armoury and collecting their equipment.
Several crewmen were already suited up with magnetic boots, carapace armour vests and pads where it mattered, helmets and weapons. A final few were checking their demolition and engineering kits, all manner of cutting gear and wrenches spread in neat rows on the aluminium grill that passed for the deck. Even as Nepto pulled on the last of his attire, a pair of thick gauntlets, he had to steady himself against the bulkhead as Calvert brought the smaller freighter alongside its larger cousin with a shriek of rending metal, and a collision that sent the neatly arrayed engineering tools scattering across the floor. One of the engineers, a young apprentice named Kohler, scuttled after them, and succeeded in being thrown against the bulkhead with a groan. Virtually all flinched in sympathy for him; he was well liked amongst the crew. Quiet, kept to himself mainly, but could be the source of a fiercely sarcastic barb on occasion.
Once Hans had picked himself and the tools up and returned to his work crew, Alexis started the short briefing. "Well, now that we've stopped falling over like a juve on his first swig of amasec, can we begin?" he said, shooting a sharp look at the now blushing apprentice. Nepto thought that Alexis was the only one that couldn't see the disgruntled looks in the mens eyes once he said that. Hans was that popular. "Thank you. As you know, this is the big time. It'll easily set m…us up for life if we get it back to Penryn, and easily enough to pay you lot in full if we get lucky and nick the most valuable stuff, or if we hack the ship apart for the reactors if nothing else. The Hirschberg is something of the order of four hundred years old since the time of its loss, and laden to the gills with military hardware. Since its old, its valuable, its all good. There are some parts that are especially old, as I understand it this ship was a troop carrier that was stripped out to become a general purpose freighter by Archangelos Shipping, yadda yadda yadda…" he waved a hand impatiently, "The point is that as the newest ship in their fleet they took the trouble to make sure it had the best available. Keep an eye out for anything special. That's about it; it's a standard job otherwise. Scout it out, see if anyone's alive, which I personally doubt, and then tow it to the systems edge. Any questions? No? Good."
Sevillano, a large, muscle-bound former hiveganger, pushed the large circular hatch of the airlock open, the other members of the boarding party watching as it swung smoothly on its hinges, before stopping with a dull boom against a bulkhead. Alexis swaggered boldly over the hatchway coaming, taking in the dark corridor in which he stood, before pointing at the scouting team to move forrard to the holds, and the engineering team to the bowels of the vessel to check its mechanical heart, and whether they could get it to start beating again. The two teams of ten moved with an apathy tempered only by the potential rewards of the job as they moved forward into the cold damp air.
The scouting team vanished into the gloom of the passageway; the only way of measuring their progress was the dim glow of lights in the distance as they hurried forrard to find their loot. The engineers, clad with the minimum of armour underneath their boiler suits, scuttled quickly along to a hatchway in the floor, and as one held the metal slab upright, the others plunged into the semi-darkness below, the near silent rustle of clothing marred only by the clinking of the tools in the incense-oil stained bags they carried. The last one, who happened to be Kohler, threw his bag down into the gloom, and ignoring the foul language of a caustic comment on the value of communication, followed his bag into the abyss below before the hatchway slammed shut above him.
Nepto strode unhurriedly to join Alexis. "Are they out of earshot?" he asked. Nepto was met with a raised eyebrow and a patronising expression. "What do you think? Come on," he replied, beckoning with an open hand swept through the air. Alexis led the two up the first of many ladders toward the bridge, and the real treasure that the Carl Hirschberg held, locked in the vault of the captain's cabin.
"Lets see what we've got here…" muttered Sevillano, as he jammed the flattened end of a bar in between the planks of a crate, slammed his foot down onto the opposite end of the bar and was surprised as the crate's lid splintered easily; the wood beneath the paint having rotted somewhat due to the moisture in the air. The scouting party had quickly found that there were no crew aboard, alive or dead, due to the fact that A) they hadn't come across any bodies yet, and , the ship had been still equipped with saviour rafts enough to save an Imperial Guard regiment; presumably the new owners had reasoned that too many saviour rafts were better than just enough; they were already there, and weren't a drag financially, so why change them? The scouting party had since, upon discovering something approaching walkways between the vast mountains of crated military hardware, begun to randomly sample the boxes for their contents; which so far had turned up only the most mundane of items: clothing, water canteens, and in Sevillano's last random pick, a crate full to the brim of boot polish.
Sevillano motioned for Rowe to steady his lux lamp onto the crate, and prised away the plank of wood that made up the lid, and looked inside the foot-long crate. Four pistol grips prodded their way out of the shadows of the box, and impatiently, Rowe reached into the gloom with a tattooed arm, yanked out the first pistol he laid his hand on, and was surprised at the weight. Retraining the lamp onto his right hand, the beam illuminated a bolt pistol of the utmost quality, black trim with a satin-like ground finish. A silver Imperial Aquila glinted in the light, and mesmerised, Sevillano reached up to Rowe's hand and pulled the small stubby action lever back. Both men watched as the mechanics of the bolt pistol's worked in perfect synchrony despite having lain untouched for at least four hundred years. Both of the men looked at each other and grinned.
Meanwhile, after winding its way through a maze of darkened passageways, the Engineering team had come to an ominous-looking set of blast doors, the dragons-teeth type overlap on them providing a recess and home for centuries worth of grime and oil. Beneath the film of grime, the door appeared to be a dark crimson, and the Imperium-wide known symbol of the Adeptus Mechanicus straddled the crease of the doors.
One of the men moved forward to where a small console was set in the wall, and as he pressed several activation runes, a bright flash of green light lanced throughout the corridor as a pict-screen activated. The rest of the team dropped their bags of tools to the floor, and curses rang out as an unlucky few managed to drop the heavy weights onto their own, or their neighbours, feet. Their hands flew to their eyes, their night vision now destroyed by the bright flash of light that left swirling spirals of purple in the darkness of their vision.
"Sorry," sheepishly grinned Cisco, and turned back to the console, placing his hand on the palm scanner and inserting a forgery of an Adeptus Mechanicus medallion. Cisco bit his lip. There was always a chance his lucky forgery wouldn't work. It was quite old now, and he doubted the.. gentleman who had crafted this one was still around. He broke out in a cold sweat as he saw the warning message flash up on the pict-screen before reading it, and relaxed with an audible exhalation of breath, momentarily blotting out the sullen mutterings of the team behind him that echoed in the corridor. A few more runes were pressed deep into the fascia of the control lectern, and the corridor was bathed in red light, before the final rune of activation was depressed.
Quickly standing away from the lectern, Cisco and the others waited for the machinery to be roused from its four-century long slumber, and to be galvanised into action. A whine was raised from the bulkhead into which the thick blast doors were set, which rose in pitch to a shriek of rending metal which suddenly cut out as the doors began to move, before grinding to a halt with a final scream of tortured protest. Almost as one the group sighed, and some started reaching down to their bags for the hydraulic rams that would, eventually, prise the massive doors.
"We've no time for those!" snapped Cisco, suddenly yanked out of his disappointment of failing to get the doors open at once. "Break out the melta charges. You, Kohler, find the captain and exec and tell them, would you? They've gone to the bridge to check for the cargo manifest."
"Yes, sir," mumbled Kohler, and started to walk off down the corridor looking for a walkway up to the next deck as the passageway behind him reverberated with the clangs of the melta charges being attached to the blast door. He really didn't like being the youngest in the company. He got picked for all the mucky jobs. Or boring ones. Frequently they were both. 'Kohler, clean out the bilges,' 'Kohler, clean this rifle." Sick of it.
He sulked off down the corridor, dragging his feet.
The crates held everything that had been said, and more. Sevillano and Rowe had quickly got the idea into people's heads to steal what they could for first themselves, and then the company. Almost every member of the work gang that toiled in the holds now clinked as they moved, their boilsuits concealing a myriad collection of stolen weaponry and equipment. The men who had come over from the Godolphin had merely raised their eyebrows at the clinking, and after being invited to take their pick from the crates, soon set to work shifting it into the holds of the Godolph.
Rowe and Sevillano now patrolled the upper gantryways of the holds, watching down below on the fifty or so men detailed to transfer the most valuable weapons and equipment from the derelict to the salvage ship. The image was calming, men working in synchrony as they passed one crate to another in a smooth undulating motion as they passed through the air; the whole ensemble gently lit by the light of a score of lamps fastened to the bulkheads.
"Peaceful, isn't it?" said Rowe. Sevillano grunted and spat on the grille-like floor of the walkway.
"If you're into that sort of thing, then I suppose it is," he mumbled sullenly as he glanced at his chronometer.
"Do you have to keep looking at that damn thing?" scalded Rowe, "A few are already noticing."
Sevillano shrugged and rubbed his arm where he leant on the railing with it. "So shoot me, I'm nervous. Who are we not to shoot at when the time comes?" his colleague sighed.
"The ones with the blue bandanas. Didn't you pay attention to the code in the briefing?"
"What can I say, I couldn't be arsed to work it out when I've got such a good partner-in-crime to tell me how its done," two rows of teeth flashed in the semi-gloom.
Rowe sighed, and decided to turn his attention back to the men below. Absent-mindedly, his hand clasped and unclasped the grip of a slimline laspistol in the small of his back.
The time would come soon.
"It fits like clothes made out of wasps!"
Very cool..finnaly a story about somebody who isn't a Space Marine or some Xenos warlord.
I completly agree, getting tired of Fluff based on the same old same old. Well done Phobos