Daul were ushered into Sáclair's apartments by Preston, an aging and substantially ugly manservant of Sáclair's household. Sáclair was so greatful to be rid of Galut's odor that he didn't even protest when Preston informed him that his bodyguard would be expected to wait outside. The private apartments of Nathaniel Sáclair were surprisingly subdued and tasteful considering the man's fondness for the ornate and baroque. It was the Lady Annabelle Sáclair who's duty it was to oversee his household and thus the furnishings were sturdy and handsome but not gaudy. The walls were lined with paintings, tapestries and trophy cases, all of which were kept at a sufficient height to keep them out of the hands of Sáclair's many young children. As Preston led him to Sáclair's study he caught sight of small faces peeking out from behind doors and around corners. The Captain had fifteen children, five of which weren't bastards, born from his wife and concubines as well as the unborn heir growing in his wife's belly. It would be the first of his male children not born of a concubine.
Children amused Daul; there was no lying in them. He chuckled as a third door clicked shut when the child behind it realized the Inquisitor they were watching was staring back. Preston muttered in annoyance and pulled a ring of keys out of his jacket pocket, "The mistresses told the children that they were not to disturb you sir and they were to make themselves scarce when you arrived. It seems they still have a rebellious streak to them."
"I dare say that the fastest way to get them peeking out of doors was to forbid them to do so," Daul considered jumping around and yelling 'boo' at the next person to peek out at him. The child would probably die of fright, "I don't really mind."
Preston's face pinched into what might have been a smile on someone else but only managed to make him uglier, "I suppose it would at that."
Preston shoved his keys into the lock and twisted the handle of a cherry red door at the end of the hall. The tall doors swung open into a wide, richly furnished study lined with all manner of books and scrolls of all kinds. It vaguely reminded Daul of the library of Inquisitor Gaal, though with fewer jars of preserved fetal xenos along the wall.
"Hildy!" the voice of Sáclair boomed across the room, "Fantastic! You're here. Now we can get to business."
Sáclair stood at a table covered in maps and charts, surrounded by the command staff of the Endless Bounty and by Magos Frist. He was supremely grateful to see the tall shape of Cairn at Kerrigan's left. Cairn walked up to Daul with arms crossed and gave him a piercing look. He pointed to the empty space behind Daul and let off a string of angry binary screeches. Daul rolled his eyes, "Cairn I can manage to walk down a corridor in the Captain's own household unguarded. The Ogryn is waiting outside. The butler asked him to wait at the door. He has a communicator if I needed him I would simply have called."
Magos Kerrigan interrupted Cairn's loud griping by turning to Sáclair and saying, "I must confess Captian it is highly irregular to prevent a man's bodyguard the ability to guard him," she waved at a broad shouldered servitor behind her, "especially considering the precedents you've set for others. Your rivalry with the Inquisitor seems to have overrode your sense."
"The Lady Sáclair is guilty of this offense I'm afraid. She doesn't allow Ogryn into the house. She seems to think they leave an odor behind. Well they do leave an odor behind to be frank. We force the ship's bonded Ogryn to bathe once a month and even that's a battle," he looked to Daul and considered the matter, "But I suppose I should make an exception for you Inquisitor. All joking aside while I appreciate your faith in the trustworthiness of my household even I am not without a guard at all times in my own house. The Amon Sui were my allies for far too long for me to have considered screening for their agents. My wife will tolerate the smell if she feels that it guarantees additional safely for our children, as will I for that matter." He paused as though considering employing Ogryn bodyguards for all his children.
Thinking of the foul smelling simpleton outside Sáclair's apartments Daul hastily said, "That's truly not necessary. I would not impose on the charity of your wife," and then changed the subject, "I apologize for my lateness. After the Lionhearts ceremonies some of the Belzafest colonists had questions for me."
"Really," Sácomer raised a meaty eyebrow, "I'd have thought they'd be avoiding you entirely considering the circumstances."
"Just the opposite I'm afraid," Daul ran his hand through his hair, wincing as he accidentally pressed down on cracked part of his skull, "They were so eager to have an opportunity to prove they weren't tainted by Faust they were all but climbing over each other to be examined. They seem to want me to check them over to validate that their faith in the Emperor and resistance against Faust meant something," he pulled a painkiller out of a tube in his pocket and swallowed it, "If I end up discovering a heretic or xeno-breed in their population we won't have time to toss them out the airlock. The Belzafesters will tear them apart with their bare hands."
Osma nodded and twirled his beards, "They have seemed surprisingly willing to allow my men access to all they brought with them. I was expecting a fight to have them surrender all weapons and munitions. Before I could even consider broaching the issue they'd turned them over to the duty officer along with the command codes for all the tanks they brought onboard."
"Well at least that's one thing more or less settled for the time being," Enzo was rubbing a small golden pocket watch between his thumb and forefinger. Worry was emanating from his mind so powerfully that Daul had to resist the urge to read the man's surface thoughts, "Good to have luck in at least one thing. Our survey teams found some potable frozen water in the asteroid belt but nowhere near enough for what we need. At least nowhere near enough that we can harvest before our water reserves run out."
"Indeed," Sáclair smoothed out a star chart that was laid on the table in front of him, "Mr. Sácomer, honored Navigator would you be so kind as to update the Inquisitor on the past few hours."
Sacomer nodded and turned to Daul, "We sent out an unencrypted distress signal as far as we could. It apparently had some success, or at least enough success," he licked his chops, "That is to say someone responded to it. Some three hours after sending the signal a ship showed up at the edge of local space. We made contact with a humanoid species that seemed peaceful enough. They have some limited ability for astropathic communication, at least enough to say 'we're friends don't shoot.' There was some," he cleared his throat, "difficulty in communicating with them when we tried to exchange languages."
"Difficulty," a haughty and wet voice ground out, "difficulty doesn't even begin to describe that disaster." Navigator Illrich could barely be recognized as human. Nearly eight hundred years old and the recipient of countless rejuvenation treatments he was as alien as any species Daul had ever met. He glowered at Sácomer and Calven with his three milky white eyes, "It's a minor miracle they didn't chose to start shooting."
"Patriarch we had no way of knowing that the astropath would override the short range transmitters nor that he would cause an adverse reaction in their xenos astropath," Zorn stated in a tone of sullen calm, "We've never known it to happen before."
"You drugged that astropath ten ways from sane and you're surprised he did something unexpected? Astropaths are people, not machines. Sometimes they chose to do things that don't make sense," Illrich waved his arms wildly, fanning his robes and looking distinctly bat-like, "You should have known better."
"The drugging of the Astropath was my fault honored Navigator Illrich," Sáclair interjected, "He did so on my orders and under my expressed supervision. Any fault in this situation ought to like squarely with me."
"I'll get to you once I'm done with him. You damn well should have known better too," the Navigator's face had gone purple with anger. They could almost see the blood rushing to parts of his face it usually did not flow. The third eye in the center of his forehead spun and twitched with anger.
"Navigator," Daul raised his hands palms outwards in placation. They could not afford a feud between the Navigators at the moment, "Under normal circumstances I would agree with you but under the current condition of the ship I'm not sure what other course of action we had. Sáclair has my full endorsement of this decision as do those who aided with it," Zorn's face scrunched up as though someone had fed him sour milk the idea of having Daul's support, "It was not a safe choice but it was a necessary one."
Donat nodded, "It wasn't a total loss. We have a location for some sort of neutral ground the local species make use of," he stuttered over the foreign words, "A station called bab-babi-baylon 5 It's apparently where the locals meet to conduct trade. It's possible it's a trap but I suspect they would have already attacked us," he pocketed the golden watch, "and it isn't as though we can afford to ignore it either way."
"A sad day when the servants of the Empire are forced to rely on Xenos," Sáclair shook his head, "But you're right there's nothing for it. I will not take a course of action that forces me to condemn loyal servants of the Emperor to dehydration and death if I can save them."
"We must sometimes make lesser concessions for the greater good," Daul admitted diffidently, "I'll sign a writ of pardon to help guarantee for the survival of your crew Captain. I give you my word."
Sáclair gave a pleased nod, "If you insist Inquisitor Hilder. "
"And what of payment," asked Sácomer, "Do we have any currency they'll take?"
"If they don't take precious metals and jewels I'll eat my hat," laughed Enzo, "Failing that we might be able to work something out by exchanging star charts and the like. Old ones mind you, ones with outdates warp storms."
"I will not surrender any of my secrets to these xenos," muttered Iino darkly as he eyed Magos Frist with slight suspicion, "And I suggest we avoid doing so if possible. I don't like providing xenos with any of the secrets of the Omassiah."
"Some outdated or inferior technologies wouldn't be inappropriate Ensigneer Iino," Kerrigan said brightly, "Especially if we can get relevant technologies in exchange. We still need metals and ceramics that are beyond our capabilities to fabricate on ship in order to repair the hull and without the proper exotic materials we can't even begin to hope to restart the backup plasma reactors."
Iino shot daggers at Kerrigan with his eyes but held his tongue. Even in disgrace Kerrigan outranked him within the hierarchy of the Cult of the Machine. He seemed to be in great pain as he said, "It's possible there may be some, lesser, secrets that would be worthy of exchange for the necessary materials for repairs. Provided we're sure we cannot simply take them from the surrounding systems."
"Ensigneer Iino," Donat chuckled in a friendly manner wholly incongruous with his stoic features, "We have half the mining equipment we'd need to extract the minerals from the surrounding systems in a year, let alone the few short days we have before the crew starts rioting for lack of water and food."
"Then we're settled? Good," Sánclair clapped his hands together, "Illrich, how long will it take for us to get to the meeting point?"
"Some ten to twelve hours depending on warp currents. The flows of the warp are surprisingly calm in this area," Illirch closed his bottom two eyes, "It's almost serene really. Yes, ten to twelve hours depending on the issues of time dilatation."
Ensigneer Iino nodded and began to speak. His voice was weak and choked from smoke inhalation. He'd been hurt badly fighting fires. "We should have the water reclamation systems running at full capacity by that time. If you can get the water from the xenos we ought to be able to purify it of all contaminants and bacteria."
"Actually speaking of bacteria," Hakam Danzig snapped his fingers, "I almost forgot to say this. Docere Medicus Faest asked me to remind you that our negotiation team will need to be fitted with full environmental hazard gear in addition to the standard inoculations package, at least till he's had an opportunity to immunize us to any local bacteria on the station. Air filters, closed seals, and the works."
"A wise decision," nodded Daul, "One that I would have suggested myself. How do we plan to communicate with the xenos?"
"They were kind enough to transmit some basic language codes and xenos science to us," Magos Kerrigan said the word 'xenos science' with mixed emotion, "It was easy enough to feed them into the ships logic engines for translation. For ship-to-ship communications we ought to be all right but I know you'll want to negotiate in person," she tapped at the communicator at her wrist, "Jak would you be so kind as to come in?"
The door to the study opened and an average man covered in augmentics walked in. His movements were a bit jerky and his lower lip twitched, as he constantly whispered to himself. He was a savant no doubt. The savants were a class of biologically and augmentically altered humans created with the purpose of increased mental storage and processing power. The process that created them gave them preternatural memory but had an unfortunate series of side effects and physical defects that came along with it. He stood there twitching mildly as Kerrigan turned to Daul, "Jak's command of languages ought to be more that sufficient for our needs. Jak Mert has been in my service for two years now as he underwent the pysical and mental transformations into a savant. I release him from my service and give him over to yours Inquisitor."
"My thanks Magos," Daul beamed as he looked to the savant. He hadn't had a free moment to think about replacing his lost staff and a savant to assist him with research would go a long way in making his life easier. His own prodigious psychic talent often let him sense the mood, flow and intention of other languages but he needed just as much time to learn them as anyone else. Time that they did not have.
"I'd planned to present his debt of service to you once the mission was over anyway as thanks for getting me in contact with the Captain," the Mago's expression brightened.
"Pardon me for distracting from the topic at hand Magos but we need to discuss something in private," Interjected Osma, "There's no rush but I do need a moment of your time Magos.
"Of course Mr. Osma," Kerrigan's cheeks crinkled into a smile, "I'm glad to be of service."
"Yes you two do that," Sáclair smiled, "While we're in the business of giving you things Inquisitor I want you to take our guest from the cell-block with you when you go over to the station. Him and his damn hounds."
"Very well," Daul nodded grudgingly. Taking as many disposables as possible was probably a wise choice, "That is probably for the best. We ought to activate the Dorn unit as well…Wait? When I go over to the station? Do you not intend to take part in the negotiations."
"I don't intend to leave the ship," Sáclair looked up from the table, "Not to enter an unknown and hostile territory. I will communicate through a supplicant-servitor, that ought to be more than sufficient." Daul flinched slightly. He disliked the meat puppets that were sometimes used for long-range negotiations en lieu of astropathic communications. Sáclair seemed not to notice Daul's discomfort as he stretched any yawned. Considering how many hours the Captain had been awake it was entirely possible he genuinely hadn't noticed, "If that's everything then I suppose this meeting is over and I must confess my bed is calling to me from even this distance."
Daul and the others filed out of the room.