The Misericord is an example of the many Chartist mercantile spacecraft that ply the trade routes between Scintilla, Iocanthus and Sepheris Secundus and the other inhabited worlds of the Calixis Sector, carrying vital cargo and passengers across the sector. It is an ugly and enormous starship, looking like a barnacle- encrusted, spacefaring whale, from which jut haphazard clusters of engines and towers, and it trails a long tail of debris like a comet.
The Misericord carries huge quantities of trade goods between the client worlds, along with many passengers. Buying passage on a ship like the Misericord is the most common method of travelling between planets. Its round trip -- Scintilla/Iocanthus/Sepheris Secundus -- a route laid down on the charter carried by its captains, takes well over a standard year.
Ships like the Misericord are very common in the Calixis Sector and throughout the Imperium, plying a slow, thankless route across the stars. Without the Chartist voidships, large swathes of the Imperium would be completely cut off and sector economies would fail. In spite of this, few have much regard for the Chartist ships, and their crews are stereotyped as rough, untrustworthy Voidborn with few scruples and even fewer refinements. Each Chartist voidcraft needs an Imperial charter that sets out its permitted trade routes and activities, and the Misericord’s charter was signed by one of the earliest generation of Calixian Sector Governors.
The Misericord is considered an ill-omen at any place it docks. There are many Chartist craft in the Calixis Sector but for some reason the Misericord has an especially evil reputation. It is considered very bad luck to marry, give birth or embark on a major venture while the Misericord is docked in system, and during the ship’s many centuries of operation, tales have grown up about the dark things that occur while it is in port, such as plagues, tech-failures and the random disappearance of children. In addition, the crew are mostly Voidborn, people who were born in space and rarely set foot on a planet, and the Voidborn, as everyone knows, just aren’t right in the head.
Inside, the Misericord resembles a huge, complex and grotesquely ornate castle. Many different ships make up the Misericord and they each have their own style, which in turn has been embellished and replaced over the centuries. In places where the component ships connect, corridors can become precipitous shafts, rooms can be upside-down and moving from place to place can be very complex, although the Voidborn crew are adept at clambering up makeshift ladders or even leaping pits in the floor. The Misericord’s interior is archaic, with feasting halls, dungeons, cobwebbed processional galleries and many other places that seem to have little connection to the business of the ship or the needs of the crew.
Life on the Misericord is defined by the castes into which the crew are divided. There are dozens of castes, each one responsible for a particular function aboard ship. Crewmen are either born into these castes or assigned to them on the few occasions they join from outside. These castes range from the Scourhand Brotherhood (who scrub the filth from the floors of the engine decks) to the Company of Imbeciles (the ship's entertainers, consisting of various clowns, actors and storytellers). The officers of the Misericord form their own caste and wear distinctive and rather sinister masks to mark them out from the rest of the crew.
Each caste has its own leadership, which reports to the officer caste, and the officers in turn receive their orders from the twin captains Anapollo and Luneros. The captains believe that the caste system is the reason the Misericord has survived for so long and are quick to bring anyone opposing it to trial.
Castes are insular and proud, and sometimes they can come into bitter conflict, such as the regular skirmishes between the Lamplighters' Guild and the Followers of the Wire over who gets to change the ship's glowbulbs. All have their own baffling traditions, from the large wood and paper animal masks of the Obeyers' Guild (the ship's lawyers and executioners) to the ritual removal of an ear from every member of the Enginists (who maintain the ship's temperamental engines). This latter ritual is said to be born of respect for a mythological Enginist of ages past, the heroic Bessimer "One-lug" Jone, who supposedly saved the Misericord from "dire disassemblage and ventation."
Most crew are true Voidborn and live their whole life on the starship. However, since the castes are not permitted to interbreed, the ship needs new crew members from outside to replenish the gene pool. Some older legends told on the ship remember the terrible "Age of Six Toes" when a mad previous captain refused to allow new blood onto the Misericord.
Crew who join from outside -- referred to as "clayfeet" -- are both blessed and cursed. They are valuable to the crew and are given the least dangerous duties, but on the other hand they can never be regarded as true members of the Misericord’s crew, and are treated as outsiders no matter how long they serve on the ship. Only their children will be true Voidborn and thus full members of the crew.
The castes into which the Misericord’s crew are organised are insular, specialised and hereditary. It is impossible to change castes and most crew are born into them. Old castes can be dissolved and new ones founded by the order of the captain, but some of the Misericord’s castes are as old as the starship itself. The ship’s castes include the following:
- The Lords, Siblings and Officers is the full name of the ship's officer caste. Members go everywhere masked, and assist the starship's two captains in making and enforcing decisions.
- The Merciful form the ship's security wing, armoured in archaic plate and mail, and carrying ominous shotguns. They can change from impeccable politeness to extreme aggression instantly, even during the course of a mundane conversation.
- The Suturers’ Parliament is the Misericord’s body of medical personnel. The Suturers practise their procedures on the starship's small complement of live animals, so cats, pygmy Grox and other creatures wander around their sick bays and surgeries.
- The Immortals recover the bodies of dead crewmen, conduct void burials and investigate suspicious deaths. They enjoy reminding other crewmen of the fact that one day, they too will require the ministrations of the Immortals.
- The Communion of Ratters is dedicated to tackling the Misericord’s constant vermin problem. There are only a few crewmen among the Ratters, with the rest of the Communion being made up of old, patched-up ratting Servitors.
- The Renders are the Misericord’s cooks and they are also responsible for the livestock raised on the ship for food. The caste's members take great pride in their food and are extremely vocal and sometimes violent in proclaiming the superiority of their personal recipes. No one argues like a Render.
- The Bringers of Silence are the only caste not to have a generally known purpose. They answer to the twin captains of the vessel and are occasionally seen walking purposefully through the ship in midnight blue uniforms, their faces painted with stars.
Locations of Note
The bridge of the Misericord is located close to the centre of the massive voidship, in one of its very oldest parts, where the walls are covered in layers of faded frescoes depicting scenes from long-forgotten myths and tragedies in the vessel's history. The captains and the bridge officers command the Misericord from a raised area, known as the captain's floor, which is flanked by a series of ornate and ancient flags which are changed to match the work shifts.
Gilded war banners attend the day shift whilst silvered mercantile pennants are displayed at night. No one can remember the origination of this curiously theatrical practice, though it may be down to the whim of the twin captains. Bridge uniforms and staff are changed from gold (day) to silver (night) as the bridge hands over from one "ban" (ship jargon for a work shift) to another.
Subsidiary helms, manned by officers who monitor the starship's systems, plot courses, man the ship’s Vox-casters and so on, stand to the side of the captain’s floor. By ancient tradition, these lesser officers may not take the floor, unless specifically invited. To do so is to rise above one’s station, an unforgivable and treasonous act against the strict hierarchy of command. Traitorous helmsmen have been thrown into the vastness of space for such a deed.
The twins require an audience on the bridge at all times and lots are drawn to determine which crew members must spend a solar day in an area known as the watch court. From here the watchmen are supposed to observe procedures on the bridge to ensure protocol.
In reality, crew members treat their days on the court benches as if it were a theatrical performance. Most spend their time eating, commenting raffishly on various officers or staring in wonder at the captains. It is a point of strict protocol that officers on the bridge studiously ignore any comments, noisy chewing, thrown food or jeering from the court. In reality, crew who behave poorly often find that they suffer the consequences once they return to their normal work.
Key ceremonial decisions, like a course change, are considered especially interesting by members of the crew, and those lucky enough to have their number drawn on a day when such an event is to occur will often sell their ticket to the highest bidder. Attending court on a false ticket is technically an offence against regulation, but in practice most officers turn a blind eye to the custom.
Visitors to, and passengers aboard, the Misericord are often delighted by the arcane pageantry of bridge activity, which they are free to observe from an outer circle of seating beyond the watch court. This captive, intrigued audience may, of course, be why the captains have allowed this curious behaviour to develop.
Passengers on the Misericord stay in the Beyonder's Hostelry, a sprawl of small but well-appointed rooms kept by the caste known as the Minions of Stewardship. The Minions have a number of quirks including being forbidden to speak, so they communicate through written notes (illiterate passengers tend to have difficulty on the Misericord) and with rapid sign language among themselves.
The Minions decorate the Hostelry with the hundreds of shiny or brightly coloured things they find, many of which are left behind by previous passengers. The Hostelry is cramped and rather dusty, and while they are obliging, the Minions have a habit of getting things slightly wrong -- most notably the food they bring to passengers always tastes bizarre. It is possible that the Minions deliberately misinterpret requests to make sure that passengers understand they are not a proper part of the Misericord’s world.
The Gallery of Sin is one of the few places where the crewmen of the various castes mix. The Gallery is a wide, high-ceilinged deck with a small bustling town built inside it. Several of the castes, such as the Guardians Mercantile and the Coinwrackers, sell goods and services to crew and passengers. The Gallery of Sin (the name is of uncertain origin) is the closest thing to a "normal" community on the Misericord, but strange rituals and traditions still abound -- shopkeepers regularly hold mock battles in the streets, engage in elaborate and foul-mouthed haggling rituals with customers, and make sham sacrifices to vegetables.
It is in the Gallery of Sin that the Company of Imbeciles performs in small street corner theatres. Some of these entertainers roam around singling out passers-by (preferably bemused passengers) to follow them performing mimes or poetry. The ethos of the Gallery seems to be that because it fulfills a fairly mundane purpose, its normality must be balanced by oddness and symbolism as much as possible.
- Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook (RPG), pp. 308-310