When last we followed the adventures of our heroic Rogue Trader, Adeon Drake, he was licking his wounds after being ambushed by his arch rival, Count Johaan Feracci, on the planet of Morkai. (Ambush on Morkai)
Although he lost several crewmen in that adventure—and spent a few uncomfortable days in an Arbites jail cell—Drake nonetheless managed to acquire valuable (and illicit) xeno artifacts that he sold at a tidy profit.
The middleman who “facilitated” this sale soon approached Drake with another profitable opportunity: It seemed a logis-ranked explorator of the Adeptus Mechanicus, by the name of Abnightus, wished transport—discrete transport—to the world of Stigmata.
Stigmata was a backwater agri-world that was evacuated 300 years earlier on order of Imperial authorities. The reason for uprooting 30 million citizens has never been adequately explained, but the issue is moot. The Imperium quarantined the world and deployed orbiting buoys that warn against approaching the planet—and fire upon approaching ships so foolish as to disobey.
Abnightus informed Drake that the quarantine is a paranoid response to the presence of half-buried xeno ruins on the planet—ruins that the world’s Imperial population had lived alongside for millennia without incident. The Tech Priest wishes to study the ruins, and he claims to have the technology to disable the buoys and allow Drake to safely approach.
To Drake, it seems an easy job. Stigmata is far from any shipping routes, and it is highly unlikely that Imperial authorities—their navy stretched thin and hard-pressed by various xeno threats—will have any ships in the area. And Abnightus is offering a vast sum of Imperial credits for the trip. What could go wrong?
The trip to Stigmata was uneventful, and as promised, Abnightus disabled the orbiting buoys. Drake’s ship, The Atropos, easily settled into orbit, and soon dozens of shuttles were making their way to the planet’s surface, allowing Abnightus to set up a base camp near a ring of ancient pyramids.
The early excavation of the ruins was uneventful. Earth-moving equipment cleared away tons of sediment that, over millions of year, had half-buried the largest of the pyramids, and what was revealed was a forbidding and massive edifice of grandeur and mystery. The structure was constructed out of a dark green stone of unknown origin, incredibly hard, and covered with hieroglyphics that were impossible to translate.
Mechanicus servitors toiled for several more weeks before they discovered what appeared to be a sealed gateway. On 6 893.735.M41, Abnightus and an assembly of Mechanicus personnel stood before the gate to see it opened—and to begin the expedition’s true purpose: to study xeno technology.
In the weeks after landfall, Drake and his crew largely ignored the Tech Priest’s work, devoting themselves to looting the abandoned towns of the planet’s former Imperial residents. But Drake’s curiosity was sufficiently aroused by the gate’s discovery that he appeared at the dig site to witness Abnightus’ “moment of triumph.”
Taking a position atop a large mound of excavated dirt, Drake had a ringside seat to events. Beside him was his trusted seneschal, Titus Marbray, and three crewmen serving as bodyguards. The Tech Priest stood about 40 meters from the gateway, flanked on each side by a dozen armed Skitarii. Behind them, waiting respectfully, was an entourage of lower-ranked members of the Mechanicus.
At the appointed moment, Abnightus delivered a lofty speech about the duty of the Mechanicus to seek knowledge—and expressed his derision at the small-minded Imperial leaders who were afraid of what could be learned from xeno technology. Finally, his speech ended, he signaled to three servitors—older models deemed expendable—who slowly advanced to the gates. Wielding servo-arms mounted with diamond-tipped drills, the two began their assault on the ancient seals of the gate.
The sound of the drills grinding into the xeno material was piercing—and unpleasant—and the gate seals proved incredibly resistant to the servitors’ efforts. Yet, ever so slowly, the ancient seals were broken, one by one.
As the last seal fell to the ground, however, the first sign of trouble revealed itself. A sickly green light flashed at the base of the gate, and then arcs of electricity flickered along the edges of the hieroglyphics. A moment later, this flickering force gained intensity and engulfed one of the servitors, who slumped to the ground.
Suddenly, the arcs of alien energy stopped, and the gates appeared to thin—as if a fading mist. A skeletal, death-headed xeno materialized through the fading gate, then another—and then another.
For a moment, neither human nor xeno moved—or spoke. But then the skeletal apparitions raised what clearly were weapons and fired at the remaining two servitors. Ghostly green beams struck the mindless cybernetic drones, and they simply disappeared—vaporized.
Not a second passed before a shrill burst of data-code from Abnightus pierced the air, and as one, the Skitarii raised their weapons and opened fire. The rank of the mysterious xenos fell, with some suddenly disappearing in a flash of green light—and others twitching for a moment and then rising again.
The archeological dig had become a battlefield. As more xenos materialized, the Skitarii targeted them with arc rifles, lasguns, and mitralocks, while the xenos opened fire with their exotic weaponry. At first, the Skitarii were able to destroy the xenos as quickly as they materialized, but as growing casualties began to thin the Skitarii ranks, so did the Skitarii’s volume of fire begin to slacken, and soon the xeno reinforcements began to outpace their losses.
The fight turned into a rout when a ghostly, wraith-like shape rose out of the ground behind the Skitairi, convalescing into an insect-like construct composed of the same dull silver metal as the skeletal xenos. A snake-like appendage whipped out from beneath the creature’s body and a Skitarii fell, decapitated. When a second and third of these strange xeno constructs rose out of the ground, Abnightus ordered a withdrawal.
On a frequency reserved for communications between Drake and Abnightus, the Tech Priest delivered his assessment of the situation.
Orbital scans reveal appearance of xenos across planet—an increasing presence that’s significant and beyond our military capability to defeat. Extrapolation of data indicates that continued resistance will result in loss of all personnel within 60 minutes.
Advise immediate evacuation of planet, where future response can be determined in safety. Ordering all Mechanicus personnel to return to shuttles. Recommend immediate evacuation.
That was good enough for Drake. He was being paid for transportation, not for fighting. Tapping his personal communicator, he began barking orders: All shuttles prepare for launch. Hostile xenos present. Defend shuttles until evacuating personnel aboard.
Then, turning to Marbray, he said: “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
— Artwork of Stigmata: NASA
Categories: Rogue Traders