The Princess and the Paupers
The first thing to hit him was the smell. Damp and greasy to the nose, this is what they all smelt like, at least all of the ones he had been to in his short life. The slums of the Coché Hurrum province on the southern continent of the great hive world of Malfi were no different to Drake than the twenty other slum hives he had visited in his lifetime. Dirty, dank and above all depressing.
The rockcrete street outside of the boarding house was potted and filthy from the dirty sub-tropical rainfall that so often passed over the slums, full of acid, chemical and soot thrown into the planet's atmosphere from the innumerable manufactorum complexes on the northern continent of the hive. He looked to the emerald sky, polluted with grey and magenta clouds of toxic gasses and sighed to himself, lifting the collar of his jet stormcoat as he did.
There was no point in throwing on any other clothes in the current climate, meteorological scans obtained from a planet wide vox frequency indicated that the acid rain would stay away for at least another eighteen hours. So Drake hoped anyway.
He began to walk east, down the depressed and broken road, stormcoat billowing in the warm breeze as he did so. He felt the movement of the fabric on his naked back wiping the sweat and making small, cool, damp patches on the inside of the garment, which irked him as he realised he would have to send for a dry cleaner upon his return to orbit which was always a trial as he would yet again have to list off the numerous methods by which the cleaner would clean the garment without causing wear. He loved this coat so much that he never would leave anywhere without it, even in the boiling heat of the Malfian climate. It was the first gift he was given as an Interrogator, and he intended use it as much as he could, as an invisible sign of rank. If he could not wear the rosette openly without blowing cover then he would have something that showed his importance. It did strike him as odd however, no one else was to know that this was a sign of status, it was just a black stormcoat, albeit of excellent craftsmanship. Perhaps some saw him as mad for wearing such a thing on a day like this.
Perhaps Drake on some level needed it to remind himself of his status. He was but a boy no more, contrary to Hydra's teasing. He needed a crutch to show him that he was important, that he wasn't just a boy, as self serving as it was. He mused often on this flaw, and hoped that in time it would leave him.
At the end of the battered road stood a large silo where water was stored for usage. Hydra and Drake had commented on nights gone by that the liquid stored could really no longer be called water. It was brown and tasted strongly of oxidised iron, showing that the storage silo had been maintained poorly over the years. More likely, Drake thought that perhaps it was a combination of neglectful maintenance and a lack of materials to build it with. If it was made from rusted iron in the first place, then it wouldn't matter how the slum lords chose to maintain their water supply. Thus, it would be doomed to give water the quality of piss until it was blown down, or eroded through or sabotaged by a rival gang. On the northern face of the silo was a battered old ladder leading to a corrugated iron service hatch. He wandered up to the rusty ladder and looked over his shoulder to see if anyone could see him.
The street was empty, bar bags of refuse and the corroded rockrete flesh and bare metal skeletons of the slum buildings. They looked like sad old giants, twelve stories tall with weather worn gargoyles and veins of black carbon from the murky rains of Malfi running like arteries between the bare metal struts on the exterior of the buildings. He looked to where he had been, and the streets to the left and right of him. Nothing. Then finally he looked at the grime covered ladder.
He sighed again and began his ascent.
Ophelia Venris was a product of Malfian society. She was grown into an eloquent beauty anf forged into a mistress of deceit and double truths. Malfi was built on information and misinformation and Ophelia was schooled in both since birth. The only daughter sired of the thirteen children of Marcus Venris, master of the great Venris Banking House of Malfi.
Her ageing father Marcus, the master of manipulation, if only they knew how he had come across his power and influence they would hang him, but on Malfi, with so much truth and untruth, it would never come out. Just like no one would find out her own less than tasteful habbits.
Ophelia was but seventeen years standard but she was wise in the ways of the world and of society for her age, perhaps too wise for some. She would often be the life and soul of her father;s functions, debating matters of sub-sector politics with courtiers of the Matriarch, naval history with fleet admirals and matters of finance with astute Administratum masters. Her beauty matched her intelligence, she sported the finest silks in the Malfian sub sector, jewels from the neighbouring Scarus Sector and perfumes rumoured to have been produced on the finest pleasure worlds in the Imperium. Her natural beauty eclipsed even her sense of style, with glistening diamond eyes and long, full bodied chestnut hair. Her ivory skin showed no blemishes to speak save a surgically implanted beauty spot next to her left eye. There were whispers in some corners of high society that suspected it was not merely implanted for aesthetics, but bore some manner of archiotech sensory device, the purpose of which could only be speculated.
She had Malfi in the palm of her hand she reckoned. As long as no one found out her little habit. So wise in the ways of the world she thought...
He hit the greasy water with a great splash that sent ichor and sediment flying onto the rusty inner walls of the silo. The stink of stale, unsanitised water was palletable in the heavy air.
“Thank throne I left my coat outside this shit,” he grumbled to himself, wiping the dirty liquid from his stinging eyes.
“Thanks Igance, this was a frakking great idea wasn't it.”
He took a deep and heavy breath and shut his eyes tight as he dove deep down into the dirty liquid. The bottom of the silo was shallow, maybe only three feet below him but being unwilling to open his eyes in the oily water made his task all the more difficult.
He reached and clawed along the dirty bottom of the silo, searching for the canvas bag they had thrown in the week before. Filth clogged his fingernails and grime coated his hands and he blindly searched for the meter long bag
I hate my job sometimes... he thought to himself.
It was always so thrilling to go to the slums. So see the misery inflicted upon the lower classes was fascinating from a scholarly perspective. Seeing them made one realise the power of influence on Malfi. They lived their lives day to day as an act of survival. To the manufactorum, eighteen hour shift, home, sleep, same again day after day after day. How delightfully simple and sad that they should never experience the intense pleasures and knowledge that she could be party too.
The crimson shawl hugged her perfect curves with ease, showing her slender figure off to the world whilst concealing her pale flesh. More importantly, the displacement field generator build into the amulet that sat snugly atop her breasts would distort her image preventing her being identified by any undesirable onlookers. Displacement fields were a common sight in Malifian high society; with a culture of secrecy and lies it was common place for those who had something to hide to make sure that they were not spotted in places or predicaments that would damage them in reputation or social standing. The use of these personal field generators, body doubles, xeno-made clone fields and even vat bred clones was common place on the sub sector capital.
From the train, she had decided to walk the rest of the two kilometres through the slums to her destination, the digital weapons on her fingers meaning she could quite easily handle herself if one of the natives became...agitated. She's run into trouble with the scum and rape gangs in this hell hole before and quite easily put them down with a few blasts from the digital las on her left index finger and the needler on her right.
She floated down the streets, seeming to enjoy the poverty that surrounded her. Perhaps it was the excitement of what was to come. Playing with the bag of thrones tied to her left thigh she began to hum tunes of famous composers as she skipped to her destination.
He stood atop the grunge covered silo and threw the stormcoat back on, feeling the damp from his sodden body infect the inner lining of the garment. After murmuring a quiet expletive to himself, he knelt down and opened the sodden bag and removing the steel gun case within. Unlocking it with his multikey, he opened the metal lid to reveal a Volg Pattern hunting rifle, complete with bi pod and preysense scope. He quickly took the weapon from its black foam casing and attached the augments, clicking the bi pod and making sure the scope was in perfect condition. Then he took an oak box held in the foam and removed a small leather pouch. Inside were five rounds and a dart containing a small frequency emitter.
He removed the dart and loaded it into the weapon, assumed a prone position and waited.
He waited an hour for her to show but as expected she did. He trained the preysense on her, altering the scan setting on the device to confirm it was his target. Thermal scans showed it was certainly a female who had some kind of field emitter around her neck. He was willing to hazard a guess that it was her so he switched back to zoomed mode, turning the thermal image of the thin female into a crimson blur of half light. The blur went to a door on the west side of the street, directly across from the boarding house from where his companion was watching her too. It knocked three times and a slot opened, obviously someone checking for undesirables.
Once the party inside was satisfied it was safe, the rusty door opened and a large, beastly man with ebon skin and tribal tattoos emerged from the threshold. He seemed to grunt a greeting to the blur, at which point the field was deactivated by the wearer. What was revealed struck Drake. A woman...no a girl rather, slender figure, covered head to toe in a skin tight red shawl. In her hand she carried a brown bag which she thrust into the chest of the ebon skinned ogre with such force it almost conveyed an over exaggerated sense of confidence.
“Arrogant bitch,” he whispered to himself.
The ogre man dropped a small plastik bag into her hands, the contents too small to see even with his powerful scope, but it didn't matter what it was, it was inconsequential. She rubbed the bag, and satisfied with the content, she hastily stuffed it into an opening of her shawl at the waist. Then something happened that he didn't expect.
The girl ran her hand seductively down the ogre man's chest at which he gave a smirk. There's no way she was going to do what he thought she was going to do. He shut his eyes and focussed on the mind of Igance Hydra.
Igance...are you seeing this?
Yes, dirty little thing isn't she, her mind's eye is so...delicious Drakey.
You've been reading her?
But of course.
Igance you know what Wolf said.
Oh come on Drake, it's just a bit of fun.
The girl looked up and down the street, then walked into the building , the ebon ogre following her with a smirk.
“Well this makes things interesting,” he said to himself.
Igance, what do we do now, she's gone inside, this wasn't part of the plan, I haven't got visual.
Frakk...we just have to wait for them to come out.
You think she'll be ok?
From what I can find on her surface thoughts she's been here before.
Then what are we doing watching her then?
Drake, this is called research. We find out what the girl is hiding so we can exploit it. Secrets are currency on Malfi.
I hope for our sakes they don't find out ours.