"Crime doesn’t pay? Actually it profits a man -- or woman -- quite a lot should they loosen their petty morals…"
- — Rogue Trader Naaxine Kadth, Captain of Luxor Koronus and Barterlady Prima of the Hecaton Cartel
The "Cold Trade," as it is known in the Calixis Sector, is the illegal trade of xenos commodities by unscrupulous individuals who deal with the alien either for profit or for survival's sake. Though highly-frowned upon by the Inquisition's Ordo Xenos, many of these items are not considered outright illegal in the Imperium of Man due to the impossibility of categorising and banning every item, device, or object that may or may not have been made by nonhuman hands.
The legality of such items are further muddied by the fact that certain individuals and agencies have had their right to exploit xenos races, conduct commerce outside Imperial space, or profit from alien plunder enshrined in law since the Imperium's founding. Foremost amongst these are those individuals or dynasties who hold a Warrant of Trade, known as Rogue Traders. This also includes Explorators of the Adeptus Mechanicus as well as lesser merchants, Renegades, and those Frontier Worlds who have the potential for contact with the alien.
The worthies in Port Wander are fond of saying that when men first encountered the alien, their first reaction was to kill it; the next was to see what profit might be made from the remains. This defines many of the transactions in the Koronus Expanse. Rogue Traders are among the few authorised by the Imperium to have any dealings with the xenos other than through the barrel of a Bolter, and these dealings, whether from trade or clandestine archeological digs, are the source of much profit and power. However, the essential part of gathering said profit and power requires dealing with sources and agencies in the Calixis Sector, where possession of most if not all xenos goods is heretical and illegal. There are Thrones to be made though, and enough buyers in the sector desirous of these artefacts and baubles for amusement or hidden needs they dare not reveal.
These goods can range from anything from weapons and vehicles to simple textiles and foodstuffs, from dangerous fuels and energy supplies to common building materials -- if something is of alien origin there is likely a market for it amongst the jaded or degenerate wealthy of the Calixis Sector. Exotic drugs and arcane technological wonders often fetch the highest prices, though connoisseurs of alien art and music are always ready to bid high. Radical Inquisitors and Hereteks are also steady customers, ready to study and utilise the devices of Mankind's enemies against them, while the fighting arenas and death-pits demand continual stocks of fresh beasts.
Explorers who can fulfil these desires become part of the Cold Trade, the secretive exchange of alien wares for Imperial gelt that goes on between the Calixis Sector and the Koronus Expanse. It is an underground economy of untold Thrones and a source of riches in both regions, but also a source of untold miseries and threats to the very existence of Mankind. Some Rogue Traders may be fully charted to conduct dealings with any xenos they choose; others may only contact them but not engage in trade. Others still have no warrant whatsoever for any involvement at all. But where there are Thrones to be made, there are ways to get around anything.
The Cold Trade has existed in the Calixis Sector in some form or another long before the sector's official beginning, for there have always been humans covetous of alien materials. With the coming of the Inquisition came the strictures against dealing with the xenos and their wares, lest the human soul be contaminated by such unholy devices. As the rule of Imperial law became more and more firm across the sector, the trade shrank, with only the most prosaic and unassuming alien items still to be found (except in the hands of elite collectors or Radical Inquisitors).
It was the opening of the Maw that brought new life to the Cold Trade, with a dazzling number of fresh opportunities with each star system discovered. It seemed each day new artefacts were uncovered and new weapons unleashed to fuel the grasping avarice of Calixian merchants. Dead Worlds divulged their secrets to skillful excavators, and new worlds were willing (or made willing) to offer their goods for the enrichment of Rogue Traders. These were the Open Years, when Port Wander's authority was only a step above lawless Footfall. Anything could be trafficked with little care as to who might be watching, with the Inquisition and planetary Enforcers overwhelmed by the deluge. Endless tonnes of truly foreign goods moved openly through the Maw and into the Cailxis Sector, with little care for any dangers they might represent. Iridescent weaves of soul-rending colours, primordial artefacts of untapped power, flowers with exquisite and poisonous scents; all these and more made their way into the parlours of many a noble house.
These were also the years of open warfare between many of the larger trading fleets as they fought over trading establishments, Warp routes, system accesses, and the other foundations of their prosperous livelihoods. Such conflicts ranged from subtle assassinations to planetary bombardments. While vast fortunes were still being made, the violence and unpredictability were impacting more and more upon profits. During the worst of the violence, Port Wander became barely more than a platform for a series of deck battles and devious betrayals. Sources were drying up, fearing retribution from rival Traders. Novices without proper warrant or sufficient skills attempted to enter the Trade and found armed resistance, or worse fell to xenos fleets for which they were wholly unprepared.
Such a state of affairs could not continue if reliable profits were to be had (and lives maintained long enough to enjoy them). Just as the situation became untenable, WAAAGH! Gulgrog's massive Freebooter fleet surrounded and besieged Port Wander in 422.M41. Rogue Traders, including many in the Cold Trade, abandoned the Port in droves, and it was left up to the Adeptus Mechanicus and the Imperial Navy to lift the siege. In the wake of Port Wander's near-fall, the Calixis Sector Governor gave in to petitions from the Imperial Adeptas and certain noble houses, returning the station to the control of the Imperial Navy. Within several solar decades, the Navy restored order with iron authority.
Interestingly, this actually had a stabilising effect on the Cold Trade. Some of the most dangerous players in the trade were caught and executed, and the remainder found they had to take their conflicts underground to avoid attention. As a result of Port Wander's resurgent stability, the second major event in the Cold Trade's history followed. Five of the most powerful remaining criminal consortiums and illicit organisations in the Cold Trade gradually came to an agreement. They began to work together, driving out the irritants of lesser traders, and carving up the lucrative business of xenos artefacts and goods. In time, they would be known as the Quintet.
For many standard centuries this system has maintained xenos trading to the betterment of all, but of late there are cracks in the cartel-alliance. Forgotten rivals are gaining power, finding new sources of alien goods and new Warp routes. Calixian buyers are attempting to pierce their near-monopoly and deal directly with welcoming xenos merchants. Increasing Inquisitorial attention has crushed long-standing trade agreements and killed others as they were coming to fruition. The Quintet themselves have begun small raids on each other, testing for weakness. In such a time, new Rogue Traders looking to enter the Cold Trade can certainly smell new opportunity.
Principal Trading Centres
Trading always requires a local place to conduct business. The Cold Trade though exists in a dichotomous manner -- openly conducted in the lawless Koronus Expanse, but hidden from view in the Calixis Sector where Imperial law prevails. A good Rogue Trader will match the needs of the deal and the dealers with the appropriate locations where initial discussions will take place or final goods will be transferred. Making the site determination part of the initial negotiations is often the first step in the deal, but a trader should take care, as the fastest way for a deal to go sour is to make mistakes before it even starts.
The locations indicated below are among the most commonly used, which means most explorers are comfortable with them, but Inquisition agents or Adeptus Arbites patrols are also alert and watchful. Port Wander itself is widely known as the place where many transactions (illicit or otherwise) in the Expanse start and end, either at the void station itself or the many asteroid facilities and satellite ships located in Rubycon II's orbit. Hab 21 in particular has a reputation for closing many deals, and that it is still in relatively solid shape reflects how peacefully they were transacted.
Footfall is another main locale, that dark echo of the port on the other side of the Maw. Here one can freely make deals of almost any nature, though with heavily-armed bodyguards omnipresent. Most traders eschew violence except where necessary, it being bad for future deals, but Footfall is Footfall and some measure of Bolter fire is to be expected. Between these two are the Stations of Passage, locations inside the Maw where skillful Navigators can drop out of the Warp in relative safety. The various planets, ruins, and debris fields make for excellent spots for furtive dealings as they are not often visited by inquisitive law enforcement agencies or rival traders. (However, the increased traffic, especially in heavy military vessels, around one of the areas has led some to move to less trafficked regions.)
Many traders prefer to avoid subsequent meetings with their contacts after the initial dealings are conducted, either as the goods are too dangerous or trust has become threadbare. Cold drops then become the preferred way to transfer items, with both parties leaving their items for later pickup. Sharda, near the Heathen Stars, is a favourite for its remote and empty location, such that most Warp routes do not even mention it. The fractured world of Deadfall, on the Warp-blasted outskirts near the Maw's trailward side, is covered with deep fissures that muffle even the most penetrating Auspex, making it perfect for dropping caches of manufactured goods. The asteroid remains of Zephyr floating on the edges of the Rifts is also a favourite, though the hazards posed from the violently orbiting debris offer other risks to be avoided.
The Calixis Sector itself has several cold drop sites, especially on the outskirts of the Halo Stars where Imperial law grows tenuous. Some desire face-to-face dealings inside the sector, even though there is a greater chance of discovery both accidental or by design. Void stations are often preferred especially for the ease of a quick exit when needed. 41 Pry is one such place, a decrepit void-station orbiting a gas giant in the Golgenna Reach Sub-sector, but outside common Warp routes, and a haven for the disreputable and illicit. Even more notorious is Sabriel, one of the many forgotten outposts along the Periphery which at times can make Footfall look like an Adeptus Ministorum Abbey.
Lastly there is the Mist Fleet of the Koronus Expanse. A motley collection of minor Rogue Traders and petty Chartist Captains in ramshackle transports and raider vessels, they also offer their ships as neutral locations (for a small fee) to others with guarantee of safe passage and assured confidentiality aboard the flotilla's myriad voidships. Their reputation is solid as adamantium and the mobile nature of their fleet ensures almost no chance of Inquisitorial or Imperial Naval detection.
Controllers of the Cold Trade
To be part of the Cold Trade is to deal with some of the most powerful groups in the Koronus Expanse. Not the heated power of raw military might, but more subtle power generated by enormous wealth and networks of agents. These are organisations that traffic with the alien on a regular basis, utilising mysterious means and devices still hidden from the Imperium, that perhaps even act on the behalf of Mankind's enemies. All are veiled in motive and methods, and even the most detailed Ordo Xenos dossiers on these organisations often contain only aliases and false information. However, although they are veiled in secrecy, these organisations are well aware of the players in the Cold Trade and events that may affect it. For an explorer looking to make their name and fortune in the Cold Trade, the question is perhaps not how to operate without their notice, but instead how to profit without their assistance.
The Quintet contains some of the most powerful groups in the Cold Trade. They work jointly to ensure the smooth traffic of illicit xenos goods for the profit of all, or at least themselves. First among the Five is the Kasballica Mission, with their well-known Mission on Footfall. This crime syndicate has tendrils across Calixis and deep into the Expanse. Though there are often internecine conflicts between the primary Kasballica operations in the Drusus Marches and the Kasballica Mission on Footfall over spheres of influence and profit tithes, both sides realise that these can only benefit their enemies and seek to keep such disputes minimised or hidden from spying eyes.
The Mission (often represented by Vladaym Tocara, one of its senior negotiators) stands ready to greet Rogue Traders new to the Expanse, and actively seeks exclusive xenos artefact contracts, with Egarian crystalline relics a particular speciality. Where negotiations fail, the Mission is also ready with blackmail, threats, and worse to aid negotiations. The self-styled Baron Armund Deveros leads the Kasballica interests in the Quintet. He disguises a shrewd and calculating mind with bluster and boasts. His goal is to ensure potential new challengers are cut out of lucrative opportunities before they become a threat to the Kasballica and its profits.
The Hecaton Cartel is also part of the Quintet, and as the name suggests operates mostly to the extreme rimward of the Koronus Expanse. Led by Barterman Primus Gulten Farnham, the cartel members trade on their name to suggest their association with this most deadly and mysterious area of Koronus. Though more localised than many of the other trading groups, they are growing in power and strength through the audacity of their deals. The Traders who operate under their sigil are renowned for their extreme daring and the quality of the extraordinary artefacts they recover. Little is spoken though of those who never return from the Rifts, although the remaining captains raise a toast in obsidian flasks in their name each standard year.
While they do not have a fixed base in the Expanse, the Serrated Query are widely respected for the breadth of their activities and operatives, as well as the extensive network of spies feeding information to their controlling cells. If there are illegal Thrones to be made, the Query are probably already aware of it and demanding their slice of the action. They are also known for the extreme loyalty and ruthlessness of their agents, with their organisation acting more like a religious cult at times. There is quiet talk that this Quintet member might be more than they seem, but so far these are only the casual suspicions of a sort anyone in the Expanse might have.
The Archeo-exhumators of Hive Sibellus have forced a place for themselves in the Quintet due to the power of their backers, the nobility of Sibellus and other puissant hive-lords. Well-educated, well-funded, and well-supplied with both manpower and weaponry, they range over both the Calixis Sector and Koronus Expanse to uncover new treasures for their collector-masters. While others may search for solar decades for a lost civilisation, the Archeo-exhumators draw on vast data pools and voyage logbooks to make needle-like raids, often reclaiming artefacts before others are aware they have been found. They each jealously guard their personal contacts and rarely act in concert, the main reason they have not totally dominated the trade.
The last current member of the Quintet is the most overlooked one. The Mist Fleets are known for their skilled negotiators, and became a part of the Five due to their valuable services in that regard. Their flotilla operates secretly, with highly encrypted astropathic announcements of their next location sent to their clientele register. It is an open secret that they have hundreds more smaller vessels roaming the Expanse and pushing beyond its nebulous boundaries for new acquisitions. Once found, the larger ships break from the fleet to oversee excavations and protection, then return to arrange transfer to buyers. Captain Marcel Kentolli of the Maeander is one of the more well-known trader-captains and is frequently seen at Footfall to represent the Mist Fleets.
There are other organisations involved with the Cold Trade that are not part of the Quintet. Some of these organisations operate more as buyers than sellers. The Ordinati Xenologis is a rogue cult of the Adeptus Mechanicus which has an overwhelming commitment to the study of xenos artefacts. Magos Nady Kimura has sequestered herself and her courtiers in a secretive void station far in the clouds of Port Wander, where she deals with Rogue Traders on specific missions into the Expanse on the Ordinati's behalf, often with their agents sent to accompany them in their tasks. The Adeptus Mechanicus presence within the Calixis Sector typically ignores this group, but remains ready to act if their research or conclusions become too heretical.
Another prominent organisation is the Amaranthine Syndicate. Though mostly known for routine smuggling amidst their normal mercantile operations, it is gathering more and more Inquisitorial attention due to the numerous xenos items found among seized contraband goods. That some of these artefacts defy identification is becoming very worrisome to the Ordo Xenos, and those who have dealt with the Syndicate are coming under increased scrutiny. Though they have informally petitioned for association with the Quintet, the other members remain uneasy. There are dark tales that are only told when confidences are absolute, for those who speak too freely are usually never heard from again. These tell of horrific alien guises, massive biological constructs, and insidious agendas far beyond mere profits. Needless to say, the Quintet is not eager to allow them to join.
In the middle of these group is the most improbable of powers. She is the Lady Bellefonte, Marquessate of Albia Novis and the invisible Vertess of Port Wander. The widow of Rogue Trader Ricard Pomfroy, she is extraordinarily wealthy; her lavish asteroid-estate near the Port hosts huge de rigueur galas for those of proper breeding (or sufficient affluence). Here she sits like a spider in the centre of the vast web of Cold Trade dealings stretching across the Calixis Sector as well as through the Maw and deep into the Expanse, gathering information from lowly dregs as well as Highborn nobility of xenos finds, artefact desires, double crosses, and surreptitious dealings. This information is bartered to the Quintet amongst others, with some special data put aside for blackmail or extortion where necessary. What started as a stimulating game to ease the boredom of her mourning period has become her passion, and she controls a vast trove of xenos knowledge and confidential information, and most find her too useful to consider eliminating her.
As the Koronus Expanse is not under the direct dominion of the Master of Mankind, the alien is allowed to roam without rightful challenge. Xenos fleets move through the Expanse, such as massive Kroot Warspheres or barbed Eldar Corsair raiders. Ork vessels leave behind destroyed planets and drifting bloodstained flotsam in their wake as they travel from war to war. Stryxis traders establish dealings across the Expanse, ready to deal with any who would dare. All these and more act as sources of xenos goods for the explorer canny or brave enough to deal with them. Such direct contact can lead to superlative deals, but can also lead to deadly battles should negotiations falter.
Surrounding and watching these are the agents of the Inquisition, Adeptus Mechanicus, and other Imperial agencies duty-bound to protect Mankind from the heresies of xenos others they may seek to suppress or destroy (as well as those who discovered or use them). They do not seek cooperation with the alien, for their time in the Xeno Hybris has revealed to them the true nature of their foe, but they also know that only selective action will use their limited resources most efficiently. There will always be a Cold Trade in their eyes -- the best any intelligent servant of the Emperor can do is work to limit it to the benign and non-malignant, and ensure it does not lead to catastrophic disaster for mankind.
Sample Xeno-Artefacts in the Calixis Sector
"Come closer, my friend. This weapon burns hotter than any of your Imperial Las-Pistols, yes, and is much more durable as well. It is yours for only a small fee..."
- —Kinser, merchant of the Cold Trade
Within the Calixis Sector, reaction to xeno-artefacts will vary from location to location. An old piece of unearthed statuary that might go unremarked upon and used as a doorstop on a Frontier World like Ganf Magna would be enough to have the possessor dragged to the pyre as a xenophile deviant on Maccabeus Quintus. As a result, those who trade in such items and those who wish to purchase them must be both circumspect and cautious.
Quite apart from this grey market there exists a true black market in items classified as completely forbidden by Imperial law. Such illegal items often command vast sums, but the danger involved is equally high, carrying the death penalty for all involved and attracting the wrath of Imperial authorities.
The following is a sampling of such xeno-artefacts that form part of the Cold Trade, ranging from the merely exotic to the outright banned:
- Xenos Art and Other Curiosities - Works of art and antiquities -- statuary, trinkets, mosaic shards, graven tablets, broken devices, strange jewellery, and the like purporting to be of nonhuman origin -- are perhaps the most common (and easily faked) staple of the Cold Trade. Most are simply sold under the banner of "made by unknown hands," which is vague enough to pique interest but non-specific enough to not require proof. Others come with convoluted stories or dubious provenances to increase their potential value. However, the "real thing" -- fragments of Eldar Wraithbone, Moliochin Fire Hearts, or the disturbing chthonic idols unearthed from Dead Worlds in the Hazeroth Abyss -- can fetch enormously high prices and carry dangers of their own.
- Crimson Bestiaries- Xenos bestiaries, books purporting to detail and catalogue a variety of alien creatures, are commonplace in the libraries of the Imperial wealthy. Most contain little more than lurid illustrations and superficial descriptions of the more notable enemies of Mankind and whatever local fauna is deemed appropriate. They range from the opinionated and often widely inaccurate works illuminated by Ecclesiarchy scribes to rarer works more grounded in reality and culled from scholastic learning, perhaps even from first-hand accounts. Of this latter kind, the Crimson Bestiaries (so called for their distinctive red serpent skin bindings) produced by the Great Library of Fenksworld are highly regarded. The volumes skirt dangerously close to the edge of knowledge that the Ordo Xenos will allow in the public domain.
- Deluvial Tincture (Drug)- One of a number of supposedly alien elixirs promising everything from practical immortality to superhuman virility and sold by unscrupulous traders and Hereteks, the so-called Delulvial Tincture is more dangerous than most. It contains proscribed ingredients including xenos retroviral suspensions believed by some Magos Biologis to be distilled from Eldar blood. The source of the drug is thought to lie somewhere in the Hazeroth Abyss, and it is rapidly gaining ground among those that can afford its dubious benefits.
- Nightweave Silk- This silk is an opulent fabric woven from a crystalline material that shimmers with a spectrum of soft inner light when worn in twilight or darkness, producing almost hypnotic fascination in onlookers. Nightweave silk is valued for its effect, great beauty, and rarity by the high lords and ladies of the sector, and is sold only by traders who operate on the Halo Stars' margins (who remain tight-lipped about its origins). Despite its favour in numerous courts, it is considered ill-omened by many Voidborn, and some psykers claim to detect the faintest echo of suffering and something inhuman in the silk, likewise shunning it.
- The Zamarkand Rose- Named after the legendary Rogue Trader bloodline of Zamarkand who brought this poisonous gift back to the Calixis Sector centuries ago, the rose is a fast growing tree that forms huge and intricate skeletal shapes as it matures. An exquisitely beautiful yet sinister thing, the Zamarkand Rose blooms a deep crimson and midnight hue, and produces a gorgeous melancholic scent. Its biology is as much animal as vegetable, and it grows strongest when its roots are fed with blood and organic decay. Indeed, the merest scratch of its poisonous thorns is enough to kill an adult human. The rose is a forbidden xeno-species by direct order of the Lord Sector Calixis' decree and has been so for 300 standard years, and with good reason; the crushed petals of the rose form a powerful hallucinogen capable of wreaking dreadful genetic damage to its imbiber. The Zamarkand Rose remains a forbidden thing of dark legend to the Calixis elite, and upon occasion a particularly sadistic weapon of courtly intrigue.
- Xenos Weapons- Of all the artefacts of alien origin, few are more sought after than xeno-weaponry, and in nearly all cases their possession is highly illegal. Some such weapons are highly desired for their unique destructive qualities, but often people want them simply for the pleasure of the forbidden. Some more Radical of the Ordo Xenos agents also favour such strange and lethal devices to aid their work (turning the weapons of the alien against them), while on the dark frontier of the sector's edge some desperate or corrupt humans will happily trade with xenos renegades for their potent weaponry regardless of its often heavy and macabre price.
- Hrud Fusil- Little is known of the reclusive and dangerous race known as the Hrud other than that they dwell only in darkness and possess strange, Warp-based technology which, it is said, allows them to walk between worlds and even corrupt the flow of time with their baleful presence. The Fusil is one of a scant few Hrud artefacts that occasionally come up for sale and is always in high demand. It is a form of "plasma musket" that uses an unfathomable mechanism to phase a plasma bolt between realspace and the Warp, bypassing its target's defences. Though somewhat unpredictable, the weapon's unique qualities make it useful for assassins and Inquisitorial agents alike. Fusils traded on the black market have been crudely modified to accept Imperial plasma cells. However, if a Fusil's mechanism becomes badly damaged it cannot be repaired by human hands.
- Fra'al Glass Knife- The glass knife is a vicious hand weapon of xenos origin that has long been a staple of black market trade on the Halo Stars frontier. Glass knives are jagged, dagger-like blades, seemingly crafted from a single piece of smoky crystal. Renowned for their strength, they are sharp enough to split ceramite. Glass knives maintain their sharpness by continually fracturing tiny shards from their cutting edges, and these splinters are infamous for working their way into wounds, causing agonising injuries. Smugglers' lore among those that operate on the border of the Halo Stars attribute the blades to the legendary Fra'al, although many insist this is merely speculation. Accurate knowledge of the nomadic Fra'al is strictly prohibited by the Ordo Xenos, and aside from a few scattered stories, Mankind remains blissfully ignorant of this merciless, highly psychic race.
Notable Cold Trader Variants
"Yes, the device pulses with a wicked light, is of obvious xenos construction, and was found by a mad Astropath on a world with no name in the Unbeholden Reaches, but I'm sure it's perfectly safe. It is obviously a vessel of some sort, so it must be safe. I think its creators may have used it as a drinking cup. Touch it? Ah, well, I wouldn't..."
- — Paul Morgenus of Footfall, Bonetrader
The Koronus Expanse is strewn with the bones of alien races long forgotten. For most Rogue Traders, these ruins are curiosities at best and grim reminders of a shadowed time before the Emperor's light spilled through the Koronus Passage and into the Expanse at worst. Most Cold Traders make their living sorting through the debris of forgotten species and passing on the baubles they uncover to the bored Imperial nobility of the Calixis Sector in exchange for vast sums of money. Of course, sometimes the alien devices and artefacts that Cold Traders salvage have greater purposes and powers than one might guess, and thus have unforeseen consequences upon their buyers.
The dread Halo Artefacts are such cursed objects, and many of the lost races of the Koronus Expanse left behind equally wicked machines in the most innocuous of packages. While certain nobles will pay a great deal for any object of alien manufacture, there are those within the Imperium, and some say beyond, who do not wish to see the most dangerous of these artefacts entering the Calixis Sector. These cursed devices are the primary interest of so-called "Bonetraders," merchants and grave-robbers who traffic specifically in psychically-resonant objects left behind by careless or malicious precursors.
For Bonetraders, psykers are an integral part of business. Only a psyker can be relied upon to separate valuable caches of buried artefacts from the detritus of dead empires scattered across the Koronus Expanse. However, as any successful trader knows, trust is a luxury, and a particularly expensive one at that when one is dealing with those touched by the Warp. A Bonetrader may need a psyker -- or indeed, a great many psykers -- to carry out his business, but he must also know how to handle the trouble that any given psyker could bring down upon him if he is not cautious. Beyond the usual perils of the Koronus Expanse, anyone who relies on taking psykers into potentially dangerous situations must be prepared to clean up the messes that follow.
Cold Trader Broker
"What is this, you ask? How might one wield such an instrument? What alien intelligence could conceive such a device? I will answer these questions and more, once we have handled my compensation..."
- — Rayner Hackert, Cold Trade smuggler
There are many riches to be had on the frontiers of Imperial space. Vestiges of archeotech from ages past, holy relics from the Imperial Crusades of Mankind's expansion and the artefacts of those beings who have lived among the stars far longer than humanity. All these and more lie dormant, waiting for those who would seek them out. While there is profit to be made in trading all of these goods, it is the xenos artefacts that has enthralled thousands throughout the Koronus Expanse.
The Cold Trade, as the black market trade of proscribed alien artefacts is known in the Expanse, is a thriving industry among the frontier outposts beyond the Maw. The men and women who broker this trade are a vicious syndicate of criminals who know full well that their actions put them at odds with both the Ordo Xenos branch of the dreaded Inquisition and the xenos civilisations from whom they reap their merchandise.
In order to avoid the full force of one threat or the other, most brokers favour a particular method. Some gather the relics of xenos civilisations long since collapsed under the weight of Terran years, plundering the ruins of a vanished people and without reprisal from their long-dead guardians. Others, flaunting Imperial sanctions to an even greater extent than the majority of their type, interact directly with the xenos and trade for their goods, make alliances with them, and on rare occasions become accepted amongst them as much as any member of humanity can be.
It is this sort of Cold Trade agent, keenly aware of their heresy, who draws the greatest attention from the Ordo Xenos. Still others take a more violent role in procuring their wares, actively seeking out alien victims, that they might strip their corpses of all valuable goods. Cold Trade brokers are by no means simply pirates who ply the stars in search of xenostech. They are sophisticated criminals, ruthless in the extreme, and hardened by many standard years of interaction with dangerous alien species.
Given that their chosen enterprise requires them to traverse the stars, making contacts on the disparate worlds of the Expanse, all the while evading Imperial authority, brokers are often cunning tricksters, willing to use guile as often as outright violence. Complemented by the fact that brokers of the Cold Trade never truly work alone, that each agent of a syndicate has the illicit backing of a vast network of smugglers, fences, thugs and killers, Cold Traders are no force to be trifled with.
Xenos artefacts are by no means the only wares smuggled throughout the Koronus Expanse. Given the size and population of the frontier, and the wide degree of variation of the laws from system to system, to say nothing of individual planets, the list of goods that are outlawed in the whole of the Expanse is limitless. Millions of ordinary smugglers work throughout the Expanse and the neighbouring Calixis Sector, making their living supplying planetary populations with mundane luxuries forbidden on account of esoteric variations of the Imperial Creed.
While these black market runners work in opposition to the law of whatever star system, planet or void station they service, their actions do not lead them into conflict with the more dreadful powers of the Imperium, nor do they find themselves on the wrong side of alien civilisation. As such, these smugglers, while a dangerous lot in their own right, are by no means the hardened, ruthless criminals of the Cold Trade.
- Dark Heresy: Disciplines of the Dark Gods (RPG), pp. 72-74
- Rogue Trade: Hostile Acquisitions (RPG), pp. 34, 130-135
- Rogue Trade: The Navis Primer (RPG), pg. 70