Ship-Board Duty

We must be unsleeping in vigilance, swift in judgment, merciless in deed!
— Evocation to the Immortal Emperor

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The acolytes ask Minion LePlar to check for individuals corresponding to the minimal description: well-groomed males of middle-aged verging on older age, with excellent but unaugmented teeth, starting with passengers and cargo taken on board at Scintilla, followed by passengers and cargo from other places, followed by crew. They cut the preliminary list to about 2,500 people that include a small percentage of noble and rich merchants and rest composed of their staffs and entourages.

Aenid asks the Misericord's tech priests to analyze the follicles from the hairs they found on the victims for signs of mutation. Meanwhile, Calpurnia checks alibis and whittles down the list of suspects to about 25 nobles and 675 staff. Rollando, pursuing the Mission Secundus, requests more information on the comings and goings of Rogue Trader, Captain Serren Travis, who is planning to buy a lot of the Ghost Pollen at the next stop at Port Wander.

After a week of analysis, the tech priests bring some ominous news: the DNA from the hair follicles is either mixed in with, or changing into, xenos DNA at a ratio of one part human to three parts xenos, all from the same individual. The xenos DNA does not appear to be from any well-known species.

Calpurnia suggests assembling the suspects under pretence of a ship's ceremony so they can question and investigate. Purser Darl tells the acolytes that they would have to join the Guild of Starlight – composed entirely of people who temporarily join the crew for reasons of expediency. They can do this in approximately two weeks when the ship drops out of warp, at which point they will have to get out in space suits and walk the length (10 km) of the ship!

Purser Darl suggests using the Banquet Ceremony, which is extremely rarely held – in that lavish, antique banquet hall they observed during their first visit of the ship. During the intervening two-week time, the acolytes practice working in micro-gravity, as well as other details of the ceremony needed to join the Guild of Starlight.

They also approach Calculus-Logi Trempan, the Legate Investigator serving under Inquisitor Rathbone. He looks like a younger version of Narthax and spends a lot of time with someone who looks like a tech priest and two individuals, one male (clearly an ex-Imperial Guard member with a huge hydraulic arm) and one female (clearly an ex-ganger of the Adrenaline Junkie), that look like mercenaries.

Aenid tells the mercs the Adeptus Munitorum have some data they need crunched by Calculus-Logi Trempan, and they react knowingly. They take the agents to meet Trempan. He agrees to help the Adepto Munitorum and offers to meet in more private surroundings. The tech priest, Engine-Seer Molochan, sweeps for bugs and mournfully pronounces the surroundings clear of listening devices. Trempan introduces the rest of his group, Sergeant Forden and Lady Dee.

Aenid explains their current investigation for the curious murders on board. Engine-Seer Molochan perks up at the mention of the hybrid DNA, and looks forward to examining the data. The team currently has no mission until it reaches Port Wander. Lady Dee grins, asks if it's true that their master is a heretical radical, and chuckles when Calpurnia primly answers, NO.

Engine-Seer Molochan virtually swallows the dataslate whole and processes it noisely, while Trempan offers them tea.

Molochan's examination reveals that the xenos graft onto the human DNA was done mechanically, over the course of decades. When Aenid explains the plan to examine the 700 suspects, Engine-Seer Molochan thinks he could screen blood samples within a couple of week.

No other body is found during the next two weeks, and the acolytes undergo the exhausting (and terrifying) ritual of initiation into the Guild of Starlight, receiving their yellow jumpsuits with colourful but meaningless insignia. The Banquet Ceremony takes place without any trouble and the samples are procured for Engine-Seer Molochan's analysis.

However, the acolytes are particularly interested to discover that three nobles and their about 80 servants did not report for the ceremony. They even resisted ship security parties sent to get them, so ship security relented. Purser Darl says that the Ship's Litigators are probably engaging them in talks about fulfilling their ship's duty in another capacity before the end of the trip, if they wish to be allowed to disembark at their destination

The first noble suspect is Jamish Rich, a factotum for a Rogue Trader out of Port Wander, who just conducted some business in the Scintilla sector. He claims that he has absolutely no interest in any event where servants will be treated as his equals.

The second is Bishop Nahavar of the Ecclesiarchy, travelling from Scintilla to a posting at Port Wander. He estimated that it was a holy day of his sect and was fasting and praying on the day of the Banquet Ceremony.

The third is Sir Samael Malette, a wealthy noble going from Scintilla to Port Wander for reasons of his own. He avoided the Banquet Ceremony because he was ill.

The acolytes receive a response on their previous astropathic message and learn that no mysterious deaths with disappearance of spinal fluids, blood, brains and nerve tissue were reported on Scintilla prior to the departure of the Misericord.

They send a new query for background checks on Jamish Rich, Bishop Navahar, and Sir Samael Malette, which of course takes another week to process. Rich is bringing back a fortune in credit chits, millions and millions of thrones. The bishop is also legitimate, posted to take over the cathedral of Port Wander, a lucrative assignment for one who is known as extremely bribable. Sir Samael is a couple of hundred of years old, has undergone many anagathic treatments, and has now just decided to start travelling; 50 or 60 years ago, he was known as a true hell-raiser but has settled down since.

Calpurnia suggests checking the top few servants for each of the three, further whittling down their list of suspects to about 8 to 10. At this point, she figures that executing this few suspects is a pretty efficient solution. The samples from the larger group, processed by Engine-Seer Molochan, all come up negative for xenos DNA.

The Ship's Litigators return with agreements for replacement Watch duty for the bishop, and Jamish Rich has offered 100,000 thrones to the Misericord as reparation. Sir Samael has Phynx World Rot, a communicable degenerative disease, and is kept in an encapsulated life-support system. Engine-Seer Molochan confirms that this sample matches the hair sample with xenos DNA! He also confirms the illness. None of his servants check positive for Phynx World Rot.

In their Guild of Starlight jumpsuits and privacy shields, the acolytes go visit the quarters of Sir Samael. They learn that he caught Phynx World Rot from a partner of ill repute on Scintilla about 20 years ago. He has been treated by Medicae Howe for all this time, and defensively denies trying any proscribed treatments.

They arrange to obtain all of Medicae Howe's notes of twenty years of treatment. He gives ample detail, but nothing in his notes indicates that he ever tried any treatment that did not work. Engine-Seer Molochan, when he reviews the data, finds it to be amazing; the man would have to be a medical genius for this perfection to be true. There is no mention of any use of xenos DNA, of course.

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