+ inload: Cephean Intrigue +

+ inload: Cephean Intrigue +

The cold wind churned over the bonfires, sending sparks and scraps – even whole leaves – of the looted books and records scudding across the streets. It was only the thin rain that was keeping the war-wracked Tradesman's Quarter from going up in flames itself.

Ferlinghetti glanced anxiously up from the steaming pot in front of him to the badly-repaired back entrance, where the looters had entered. He was glad the lock of his traveller's trunk was more secure than the door to the dismal tenement. Thinking of his vistor's upstairs, the underscribe was even more glad that the weight of important papers in the trunk had kept the looters from simply taking the chest itself.

Giving the pot an absent stir, he wished – again – that he'd not left this particular important document on his desk that morning. 


"With the port closed, there's no way to get a conventional message off-world." Northgrass paused. "At least, no way beyond a narrow-band radio vox-trans. Perhaps we could -"

"That won't get it beyond orbit," interrupted Veck. "No use; unless we're intending to alert the Guard." Leaning back in the chair, he closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. Northgrass sat down on the chest at the foot of the bed, his brow clouded. The underscribe crept back into the room. 

"It's clear, Childeric. As far as I can tell." He looked nervous. Most men looked nervous around members of the Inquisition. "I looked down the back gate. It's clear." Ferlinghetti was grateful for his unwavering bionic hands as he handed Veck and Northgrass tin mugs filled with a thin broth.

"Gratis." Veck accepted the steaming cup, slipping two fingers through the handle and cradling it, enjoying the warmth. The room, barely spacious enough for the thin-mattressed bed, rickety chair and tiny sidedesk, felt distinctly cramped with three men in it. Ferlinghetti didn't want to sit on the bed, as that would mean his back was to at least one of the others. He remained hovering anxiously by the door. He raised the drink to his mouth again to avoid talking any further. It was still too hot.

The underscribe's eyelid twitched in irritation as Northgrass leaned forward and rested his mug on some scattered paper records. The Interrogator broke the silence.
"Without that manuscript, what would you send?" 

Veck gave no immediate answer. After a moment, he spoke.
"I have... suspicions about the Sun King's legitimacy." He looked up at the underscribe. Ferlinghetti's treacherous eye darted guiltily. "There is no secret about that. The manuscript will provide confirmation one way or the other, but one in my position is not restricted to acting on evidence."

The interrogator was restless. He tugged at his neckline and fidgeted, making Ferlinghetti's travelling chest creak beneath him. 

"'Your opinions may change, but never the fact that you are right.'" Northgrass' quote, from Veck's own Inquisitorial Aphorisms, raised a flicker of a smile. 

"Just so. In any case, there is something... unusual about Good King Sirius, Cyprian. You said so yourself." 

The underscribe's nature made preventing himself from correcting Veck's pronunciation impossible. 

"Scirusc, sir." 

The Inquisitor was not a striking man, and nor was he imposing. Nevertheless, his direct and measured gaze conveyed the weight of the Inquisition all too well. Veck's expression was neutral and composed, but Ferlinghetti found the Inquisitor's eyes absolutely fathomless. They sat in his impassive face like the eyes of a shark, he thought. Cold. Predatory. Remorseless. 

Ferlinghetti's larynx bobbed as he failed to swallow. 

"There is a copy."

Veck held Ferlinghetti's eye. "There is a copy." To his credit, the underscribe's face remained blank as the colour drained away. His voice broke as he stuttered on "There is a encrypt d-duplex in a safebox with my effects at Manderghast's lab-laboritarium." 

"The Magos?" Ferlinghetti merely nodded in mute reply to Northgrass' question. "Where is he?"

"On the other side of the planet." Veck's exasperation was not entirely hidden. "Or he may as well be while we're stuck in the City." 

Ferlinghetti's fastidiousness overcame his fear. "Ah, that's not strictly the actual case, Unf-, I mean, Childeric." Veck raised an eyebrow. "Titus is on his way to the docks now – the naval docks, I mean. The breakwater. I received instructions to draft a promissory note for the de la Oadwadh family's consolidation in the Hard Regions. He should be here in the early hours." 

"What sort of business?" queried Northgrass, tucking his Aquila pendant into the neck opening of his tunic.

He was answered by Veck. "Irrelevant, Cyprian. I'm sure Ferlinghetti isn't privy to all Manderghast's dealings; and I'm just as sure Titus won't have been able to resist cataloguing Ferlinghetti's belongings for 'safekeeping' – even if that means forcing open a locked safe." 

"The code is a personal cypher. Even if he did read it, it's near-meaningless without my shibboleth, Inqu-," Ferlinghetti stumbled. "Sir. Childeric. I mean, Rubricist" he finished, lamely.

"From what I hear, the Magos would make a good scrutator." Ferlinghetti wasn't sure if he detected professional jealousy or something more from Northgrass. The Interrogator stood up and rolled his shoulders. "At least, considerably more reliable than you, F'inghetti. When does he arrive again?"

Veck smiled thinly, and he sipped at his broth. "In this case, gentlemen, Titus' knack for clumsily poking his nose into other peoples' business may well prove to our advantage." He turned to Northgrass. "I consider myself a good judge of character. And not just a judge of good character, at that." 
Northgrass and Ferlinghetti turned to look at the seated man. "There's a reason I put you in touch with Magos Manderghast, Ferlinghetti. Without putting too fine a point on it, he's a known quantity. I can rely on his compulsion for other people's secrets far more than I can on your hard copy."

He leaned forward and carefully cleared a space amongst the papers on the desk for his half-empty tin cup. Rising to his feet, the Inquisitor adjusted the front of his robe. "Now, let's just hope my faith in Manderghast's dishonesty is well-founded."

"...and that Ferlinghetti's coda has proven more secure than the lock of his strongbox," finished Northgrass. "That still doesn't solve the problem of getting the message off-world, sir." 

"I believe it does." Veck's voice was measured. "A highborn family like the de la Oadwadh's is sure to have a tame astropath on staff. He might be a little rusty, but I'm sure he can get a message through the Sun King's blockade."

"Without detection?"

"Detection. Yes. That is quite another matter..."


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