A Last Blast From the Past: The Navis Nobilitae

Here is the last article I salvaged from the old Trollslayer.net site. It comes from the time when I was writing Wolfblade. As usual, it is not part of the official Warhammer 40,000 background save where parts of it have made their way into the book.

The Navigators

An extract from the basic training lectures of  Brother Guillame, Fabricator Scriptorum, Inquisition Library, Stalynheim.

Reference: Light of Knowledge

Clearance Level: Tertius

Unauthorised Viewing May Result In Termination of Library Privileges and Life.

Praise the Emperor.

Brothers, suffer not a mutant to live is one of the most ancient precepts of our order, but as we shall see it has not been applied in every case. Today we shall talk about another ancient institution of our Imperium, the Navigator Houses or Navis Nobilitae. They are one of the very few cases in which a mutation has been deemed so beneficial that it has not been stamped out.

Many claim, with some justification, that the Navigators are essential for our civilisation to survive. While it is true that some short-range interstellar travel would be possible without them, almost all long distance voyages would cease without their aid. To understand how the Navigator Houses got such a grip on the throat of our Imperium one must first understand something of how interstellar travel is accomplished.

All of our starships must pass through the Immaterium in order to make their journeys. This is an alternate dimension where time flows strangely. It is aligned contiguously with the fabric of our own space-time but within the Immaterium space is warped or curdled, so that a ship can enter it at one point in our universe, and emerge many hundreds of light years away. Passing through normal space, even at fractions of light speed such journeys would take centuries, if not millennia. Passing through the Immaterium journey times can normally be reduced to days or weeks.

Of course the Immaterium is not without its perils. In other areas of study, most notably daemonology, you will have heard it referred to as the Warp. Yes, brothers, the two are one and the same. The place through which our ships must pass is that same area from which our soul’s greatest perils emerge. This is not the time or the place to go into our understanding of why this is so. For the moment, take it on faith to be the truth.

Not only are daemons present within the Immaterium, but also there are other perils. Merely gazing upon it can, as you would expect, warp mind and soul and sometimes body. No normal man can look upon the Warp for an extended period of time and remain sane. Even to contemplate its structure upon navigational instruments can be injurious to spiritual and mental health.

It would appear that the mutation of Navigator’s makes them immune to these psychic perils. Moreover while normal souls, even shielded ones, are visible to daemons within the Immaterium, it seems that they cannot perceive Navigators- at least not with their psychic senses. (Presumably a manifest daemon with access to a normal range of senses would have no such problems but that is beyond the scope of this lecture.) It may also be that Navigators extend this protection at least in part to those ships under their care. Here, alas, we must plead ignorance.

Almost all Navigators bear the stigmata of the mutant, the third or pineal eye, which they claim lets them view the Immaterium. Why then do we take it on faith that the Navigators act in our best interests, and are not some foul pawn of the forces of Darkness? For the best of reasons- our Emperor believed this to be the case, and who are we to doubt his almighty word?

Indeed not only did he grant the charters of the Navigator Houses, he blessed them with a great boon. Of all humanity, and however reluctantly we do so, we must extend that description to the Navigators, they alone are capable of using the mighty psychic beacon of the Astronomicon to guide their vessels through the Warp. Yes, they have been granted the blessing of direct communion with the celestial choir that attends our Emperor in his throne. Does it not seem likely brothers that it is this that shields them from the perils of the void, the direct intercession of our lord on their behalf? So at least some of my colleagues believe.

Still let us not be deceived, the Navigator Houses, while they may enjoy the Emperor’s Blessing in this one thing, share all the common faults of humanity. The Navigator Houses are very old, very rich, very privileged, not a little decadent, and engaged in unending intrigue both against rival houses and within themselves, with all manner of cliques and factions struggling for power. Old hatreds and rivalries fester between the Navigator clans. These date back to before the Imperium and may have been deliberately fostered by the Emperor.

It has been speculated that one reason the Emperor in his wisdom granted charters with his seal to so many rival houses was to ensure that the Navigator’s virtual monopoly on starship transit did not become a real monopoly. With so many hereditary enemies involved, the system was designed to ensure that the Houses would always remain at each other’s throat and in competition with each other. Whatever the origins of these rivalries the Ecclesiarchy and various factions within the Imperium have done their best to maintain this situation to the present day.

In the past, there have been various attempts to unite the Navis Nobilitae or at least allow them to present a united front to the rest of the Universe. These cartels have often temporarily enjoyed a limited success, and during those periods the Navigators have enjoyed enormous influence in the Imperium, but, sooner or later, someone has always broken rank, and the endless intrigues and the endless cutthroat bidding for contracts has begun again. The Grand Conclave of the Houses, which acts as an arbitration centre and point of contact for the various Navis Nobilitae clans, while now virtually toothless, is a legacy of one of these intermittent periods of unity.

Sources within the Houses have told us that in private many Navigators see themselves as the secret masters of the Imperium-a view that some think has almost as much truth as hubris in it. Each of the Houses is ancient and enormously wealthy, and their very nature ensures that they have links with the greatest Merchant Trading Houses of the Imperium. Indeed many of these are fronts for the Navis Nobilitae, and used in their proxy wars and intrigues. Sadly the Navigators also wield a great deal of influence within the Ecclesiarchy, by virtue of their monopoly, and their enormous wealth, a damning testimony to how far our Imperium has fallen short of the Emperor’s original conception.

Each house maintains an enormous network of spies and intelligence gatherers that gives them a certain amount of leverage on the various potentates of the Imperial hierarchy. Were it not for the fact that most of the efforts of rival houses cancel each other out, they would be powers indeed within the Imperium.

Also many of Navigator Houses have links to specific Imperial Guard worlds, or Space Marine Chapters. House Belisarius for instance enjoys links with the Space Wolves, and the Lord Belisarius has his Fenrisian Guard, drawn from warriors said to be of Fenrisian stock, and captained by actual Space Wolves, under terms of an ancient pact between the House and the Chapter.

Enough of these matters let us consider the primary duty of a Navigator- guiding his ship through the warp. Bear in mind that some of this is highly speculative since our only sources are the Navigators themselves, and certain obscure mystical writings.

A Navigator is linked to his ship via command  neuro-links. It becomes an extension of his body when they fly. However once the ship is translated into the Immaterium this is a very minor consideration. The Navigator then spends most of his time seeking currents, flows, and pathways, and trying to avoid temporal whirlpools, stasis locks, and other hazards.

I must stress here that it seems every Navigator sees the Warp differently; a Navigator projects his own reference points and intellectual structures onto the Chaos of the Immaterium. Naturally this is shaped in part by his training, and how he is taught to visualise things. This means that Navigators from different houses may well see things very differently.

In most houses, it seems, Navigators begin their apprenticeship around the age of 3. Their basic training lasts 21 years.  This involved in its early stages seven years of training designed to discipline the mind through the medium of physical exercise and meditation rituals, and the study of basic martial arts for the same reason. Then comes seven years of mental training that involved the study of many disciplines including mathematics, hyper-spatial geometry, history, politics, economics. It also involves study of the design and construction of warp engines and starships in case the Navigator should be called on to supervise the repair of his vessel, and tactics of all sorts, for it is not uncommon for Navigators to become involved in battles, both in space and on the ground. Lastly there comes seven years of mystical training designed to stimulate the pineal eye, and open the mind to the paths of the Immaterium. In its last seven-year stage this apparently involves mysticism, drug use and study much like the forbidden arts of sorcery.

When a Navigator progresses to the next level, he continues his studies on the previous levels so that by the time he comes of age at 24, when his house may apply on his behalf for his Master Navigator’s ticket. It is at this point that as an Inquisitor your career and his may well intersect. Wisely the Ecclesiarchy insists that all Navigators are subjected to the most stringent mental and physical testing when they first seek their master’s ticket and every 5 years thereafter when they come to renew that ticket. Any Navigator whose travels have taken them beyond the reach of an Inquisitor for more than 5 years is required by law to present himself to the Ecclesiarchy or the nearest Inquisitor when he returns, as is any Navigator who has been exposed to abnormal influences, travelled beyond the Imperium in the company of a Rogue Trader or made contact with Xenogens or heretics of any kind. Any Navigator remiss in this duty may find himself handed over by his own house, most likely because if they fail to do so, they can be subject to a full scale Inquisitorial investigation.

As ever, when dealing with Navigators, as with all other elites of our Imperium, you must be careful to show neither fear nor favour. Do not be intimidated by threats of potential bans on future travel or daunted by the fact that during interstellar travel a Navigator will very often have your life and the life of your ship in his hands. Remember, there is no limit to Imperial justice, and no one is beyond our reach.

All glory to the Emperor.

3 Replies to “A Last Blast From the Past: The Navis Nobilitae”

  1. Cheers for another interesting read.

    Are these little essays on different parts of the fictional world typical of your writing process? Do you find

    1. Dunno where the rest of my comment went. Ah well let’s try that again shall we. 😉

      Are these little essays on different parts of the fictional world typical of your writing process? Do you find they make it a lot easier to write when you have a solid groundwork for the world, or are they something you write down afterwards as a bit of fun?

      1. Hey, Jimmy I used to write these little posts to clarify my own thoughts on the subjects I was writing about. I certainly find it easier to work when I have everything clear in my head. I confess it was also fun to do them. I was a lot more confident in my ability to get things right about 40K 10 years ago though. There’s been a decade’s more development since then and a lot more books. I probably would not attempt similar essays about 40K now.

        For the Terrarch books I actually sat down and wrote a dossier of stuff just as I would when writing an army book or a sourcebook for a game. On the other hand, with Kormak I am exploring the world as I go along which means the stories have taken a lot more time to finish since I feel compelled to go back and rewrite previous stories when I find out something new. That said, I am finally starting– after only a few short stories, four novelettes and a novel– to get a real feel of the shape of Kormak’s world and its history.

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