Ambush
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A small mind is a tidy mind!
— Evocation to the Immortal Emperor

That night, Sanctus Machina examines what records he can covertly access from the Machenko Family system. He suspects, but cannot yet prove, that the local operation involves some sort of money laundering and includes activities in Nova Castilla and Magnagorsk Hives, where the family has no official business. He discreetly inserts a query that will issue a warning to him if any unusual activity takes place, compares to their current baseline.

Calpurnia conducts very official rounds in her role as bodyguard and notices that while the place offers very good observational security, it offers only limited physical security.

In the morning, negotiations between Rollando and the Machenko representatives go on to establish business on Sephiris Secundus. He and Sanctus Machina are taken on a tour of the local industrial waste recycling operation and conduct an evaluation of the soundness of the business. The operation is sound if marginal, and peasants seem to be unusually well treated.

There is even a training program for workers, rather than just relying on numbers and the smartest just figuring things out and surviving. According to what little Sanctus Machina learns from his intrusions, the operation brings in considerably less people from the outside, especially the Lower Hive, than other similar operation, but it also has a lot less theft, fires, contamination, fights, etc. Which kind of balances out the added cost of training and better treatment. It seems to simply be a different business model.

Aenid stealthily conducts her own investigation and discovers that the most guarded spots are the inflow and outflow spots, rather than the workers. The sludge inflow is particularly heavily guarded. She decides to approach the guards and ask about their job. They say they must guard tightly against plague carriers coming in with the inflow, something that has now died down a bit, but used to be a big concern about a hundred years ago around the time Hive Akella fell. The plague then caused people to become, reputedly, stark raving monsters. As far as the guards know, other hives take the same kind of precautions.

The following evening, Aenid decides to venture into the restricted areas. She discovers the library and finds that this enclave was established just after the fall of Hive Akella, where the Machenko Family had been heavily involved. The Machenkos bought here because this was the cheapest location and all they could then afford. The timeline looks like:

Machenko Family heavily involved in activities in Hive Akella
Machenko Family investigated for heresy
Fall of Hive Akella
Reinvestment in Hive Volg, much smaller
Gradually increasing money laundering operation, probably monies coming from off-planet.

Suddenly, Calpurnia's comm unit beeps; it's from Proctor Blando, who says there's been another incident in their case. The transmission breaks abruptly when she asks where they should meet him. She notifies the team and they scramble out as politely as possible.

On their way back, Calpurnia calls the Arbites Precinct; she is told that Blondo is unavailable and is ordered to clear the channel. She barks blistering orders and intimidates the speaker into giving him the location where contact with Blando was lost; the area is apparently now under a communications jam. They direct their aircar over there and see fire and heavy damage to some buildings; as they get close, their vehicle takes enemy fire and the pilot is killed. Sanctus Machina manages to bring the craft under partial control and make a safe landing despite taking heavy damage from an air missile.

They bail out of the wreck just as two more surface-to-air missiles launched at them hit the side of the building. Aenid determines that the missiles came from three different buildings around the one that was just hit and is now burning. Nearby, a couple of Arbites Rhinos are overturned in the street near the target building (a different one, partially collapsed and burning). Arbitrators are lying in the street.

At this moment, Sanctus Machina receives an alert of unusual activity on the Machenko's database! A few minutes ago, someone hacked it and looked into the whereabouts of Rollando's cover identity, thus discovering that the team had just left.

Calpurnia, followed by Rollando, starts moving under the cover of terrain towards the collapsed building and the Arbites; Aenid stealthily starts moving from one of the locations from which the attack came. Sanctus Machina uses his maglev to recon and identifies the locations from which the missiles were sent, then lands near the Arbites. The others arrive soon after; Sanctus examines the Rhinos while Calpurnia rallies the troops and informs them that they may be attacked by highly trained veterans from Tranch. They lost contact with Proctor Blando, who was investigating a report of another Yellow Line Killing, just before the building went up.

Aenid examines the attack spot and reports that anti-ground vehicle “treadfuckers” have been used. Calpurnia mentions that treadfuckers have at times been field-modified by entreprising Imperial Guardsmen to provide ad-hoc anti-aircraft firepower. They find that the jamming signal is now gone, and they get support to extract the Arbites team. The explosives were radio-controlled and located in the room above the room where Blondo was investigating.

Proctor Reeves is taking over for Blondo. He is very angry: seventeen officers are dead; but he seems to be very result-oriented and listens to the acolytes. Calpurnia briefs him on what they had been doing for Blondo. An autopsy reveals that the body found with Proctor Blondo was Captain Kastler, executed with a flamethrower; the only symbol drawn on him was an aquila, suggesting that he was not a victim but a martyr. Sanctus and Aenid examine unit records and figure out that a certain Sgt. Anders, formerly of the 212th Volg Volunteers, is likely the one who hacked into the Machenko Family system.

The acolytes go to Anders' time-share housing unit, though anticipating booby-traps. Sanctus disarms one at the door, then a roomful of salvaged electronic gear, heavily booby-trapped. Sanctus identifies a vox recorder monitoring official comm channels, especially the Arbites. Anders recorded changes in patrol protocols, etc. He also had taps in the municipal police and Adeptus Arbites databases. He also finds a lot of actual bomb-making equipment.

During Sanctus Machina's examination, Aenid checks for onlookers and surveillance, but finds no one but nosy Low-Hivers.

Sanctus finally triggers one of the booby-traps and has only seconds to activate his maglev system and fly out. A good section of the floor is destroyed; inhabitants run out and looters scurry in. The acolytes leave to get Sanctus Machina some medical and technical attention.

They review the information available on their quarry. Sgt. MacAvoy, a squad leader, would now be the next ranking non-comm of the 212th Volg Volunteers. About 70 veterans of the unit remain, now probably hiding in the Underhive.

The acolytes contact Governor Pas Palacious and brief him. They want the most experienced people they can find to go hunt in the Underhive. He agrees to hire mercenaries from Hive Akella, a unit of 500 Sump Hunters; he is willing to give Hive Akella an interview in exchange for their help with capturing or killing the surviving members of the 212th.

The acolytes and their mercenary forces spend a few weeks combing through the Underhive, but find not a trace of the 212th… But at least this earns the Hive Akella leaders an interview with Governor Palacious.

A few days later, the Governor convokes the acolytes again. He says he has been presented with convincing evidence that Hive Akella's nuclear generators were detonated deliberately by the then-hive governor in reaction to the plague that had become uncontrollable. Hive Volg was also hit by the plague at the time, but somehow conditions did not reach the same point and the plague was brought under control without having to destroy the hive. He asks techpriest Sanctus Machina what he knows of the Logician sect, which is believed to have caused the plague, now known off-world as Fenks rot.

The acolytes get permission to visit the Library of All Knowledge, but are warned that not all who visit survive. They go through a curtain of light, then find themselves inside a solid tube of light. They walk for a long time, until they finally meet a man wearing a smiling demon mask. Sanctus Machina asks for help in finding information; they suddenly find themselves walking on an open hill. Aenid hates the place. They are taken, after another long walk, to an ornate theatre with other masked people.

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A person with a blank, mirror-finished mask approaches and bows; the acolytes bow back. His voice is pleasant but oddly not quite human. He gestures and the other masked people pirouette and dance into action, bringing a table and food. Then they return to silence and immobility. Sanctus Machina introduces himself and asks how to address them, but the masked leader says there is no need. He offers refreshments and Rollando immediately tries the wine, while Calpurnia and Aenid are tense and refuse. Sanctus Machina politely tries a small portion of food and drink, than asks to get on with his research.

“Your race is ever impatient,” answers the host.

“Your race?” asks Sanctus. “Are you not human?”

“We are Eldar.”

Calpurnia reflexively reaches for her weapon, and the masked people burst into a frenzy of action, suddenly producing weapons from out of nowhere. There is a tense standoff, then Calpurnia slowly moves her hand away, teeth clenched. “Xenos… “ she hisses.

In a blink, all the weapons are gone, and the masked people are immobile again. The host tells Sanctus Machina: “You can learn much from us, but it will change you.” Sanctus and Rollando seem inclined to listen and Aenid, uncomfortable in this open place, is hesitant, but Calpurnia bristles again. “No,” she growls. “No corruption.” She looks around for the way back, but everything looks equally vague.

The host assures them they are free to go, so Calpurnia orders everyone to march away. Reluctantly, Rollando and Aenid start obeying, but Sanctus Machina refuses, saying that there is too much to be learned here. “Your betrayal will be reported,” Calpurnia snarls.

As she turns to leave, the host speaks again: “Wait.” Calpurnia looks over her shoulder.

“Before you go, we must perform the Dance.” The masked people move to surround the acolytes.

Calpurnia is now certain that this dance must be part of a spell or incantation of the dark xenos or the Ruinous Powers. Her fellow acolytes try to calm her down, but she is obstinate. “We have been betrayed, we should not be here. No Dance!” She starts pulling her weapon again.

The mirror-masked host says: “Before you go, you must reveal your secret.” Sanctus Machina tenses, thinking of the Logicians.

“What?” exclaims Calpurnia. “He brings no secret, we came here to learn answers…”

But as she speaks, the host turns to face not Sanctus or Calpurnia – but Rollando.

“Kill them all…” the voice of the Sword whispers in Rollando's mind…

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