Mesme sat in her quarters, having returned to her quarters, after being briefed on how exactly the fleet was to drop into orbit over Falasten Prime. The room’s central space had been cleared, to allow for a communal meal to be had shortly. The commander had invited her bodyguard, her lieutenant and Fio’O’Karra to discuss the coming operation over a last meal before battle.
The admiral, despite invitation, refused due to a large workload. His plan to get the ships to orbit quickly was genius. The Tau were incapable of making long trips into the Warp, an incapability that prevented highly rapid annexation of large areas of human-held space. However, the Tau were capable of skimming the edge of the Immaterium. Using this, the admiral would perform a micro-jump, placing the fleet in orbit from the edge of the system in the same time it took to blink.
Drinking some warm ky’husa with energy, Mesme registered the entry of the two Aun’vre with a frown and a slight shifting of her weight on the ground. She motioned for the two to sit, which they did as her drone buzzed around the room. They obeyed, sitting opposite her across the table played host to a projection of the strategic situation on the capital planet.
These clerks from the ethereal caste had not informed Mesme of their names, and did not seem to have any intention of doing so. One was thin and short, the other was taller and more built, but both displayed the raised bone in the centre of their face typical of their caste. Mesme could still remember her father’s own.
“Why do you enter my quarters?” she asked plainly, “What business do you have?”
“We are here to express concern about your continued refusal of summons for the Propagation Department,” the thin one said, “Your genetics are considered essential to the Empire and the Greater Good.”
Mesme looked up from her work, amused by the audacity of the pair. The Aun taking an interest in her apparent indecision on choosing a mate, and a complete lack of cooperation with the Earth Caste geneticists who would choose for her, was far from a new event. Their attempt to mix the castes to create new traits had resulted in failure, but bore them fruit in the form of Mesme’s apparent natural ability to be calm in even the most dire military situation. Now they were looking to experiment further.
“I recognise your concerns,” Mesme said, barely able to contain her irritation, “However, the Empire has more pressing concerns for my attention, I am young, there will be plenty of opportunity for propagation once I have fulfilled my duty.”
“We have been instructed to inform you that T’au is unsure that you will live long enough for that to be true,” the tall Ethereal stated, “Your continued insistence on frontline command poses a great risk to your life.”
Mesme laughed for a moment.
“How would you evaluate my continued progress if I did not insist upon it?”
“Regardless, we must insist that you choose a mate now,” said the thin one, placing a data card on the table, presumably with a list of names deemed suitable by the Fio’O geneticists on Tau‘n. Mesme eyes widened, shocked by this sudden move. She was speechless.
“For the Greater Good, Shas‘O.”
___________________ ___________________ __________-
Vre’Kaishi stood in his jumpsuit in the launch bay of the Serra, overseeing the gue’vasa troops preparing for battle. They had donned the grey-blue Sacea-pattern camouflage for their fateful mission to the surface of Falasten Prime. The troops would be making history as the first majority-gue’la strike force in the empire’s history. As Kaishi pondered on whether this was a sign of the future or just the result of the unique nature of the Serra’shan’al, he couldn’t help but notice the smells of the humans.
They were nervous, or so the bodyguard guessed. Not that they could tell that amongst themselves, but the Tau had a far more potent sense of smell. The ability to sense mood vaguely but wordlessly was something natural to all Tau, and Kaishi’s extensive experience with gue’la made him an educated guesser.
The launch bay was a massive cavernous space, with Orca dropships lining an entire wall. Their sleek black paintjobs made them look something like massive whales, with deadly cargos piling into their mouths. Some were troop carriers, others were the highly modified versions for carrying gravtanks.
Air and Earth caste engineers were making their last minute checks on them, as the gue’vasa started taking their seats inside.
El’Ka entered his battlesuit as Kaishi finished his last look at the scene before him, and took a step towards his own death-dealing second skin. He stopped dead in his tracks as the doors from the main corridor opened, and Mesme walked swiftly past him.
Kaishi greeted her casually as usual, but she completely ignored him, stepping into her battle suit quickly. The two Aun’vre appeared at the doors soon afterwards, observing as Kaishi had been not a moment earlier. The meal had been cancelled, and now he knew why. Clearly the Aun had made some demands that Mesme found highly irritant, her face reminding Kaishi of their youth when he saw that expression many times. The bodyguard finally reached his wargear and continued his thoughts as the faceplate connected and his commander began to speak.
“Gue’vasa of the Serra’shan’al,” Mesme said, addressing the humans,
“Almost two hundred and fifty tau’cyr have passed since your ancestors found themselves abandoned by the Imperium. In those dark days, after fighting nobly against us, your relatives found themselves without a home, without hope. Thrown away into a mindless war against the Greater Good, they found that they were thrown away even more readily as the Y’he appeared to scourge the galaxy. But they were not alone.
The Empire accepted them, gave them a home, a real one. Far from the cramped slums of the gue’la slum worlds of their birth, they found a comfortable place. However, the descendants of their cousins remain in servitude, remain under tyranny. We go to battle today to liberate them from their overlords, their poverty and their ignorance. Today, you will fight alongside those of your cousins who have seen the light of the Greater Good, and bring their planet to a new age of prosperity and greatness!”
A great cheer went up among the gue’vasa, thoroughly encouraged by the speech as Kaishi knew they would. The descendants of the first generation of human colonies were slowly integrated in the Empire proper, and these were the first to speak the Tau language as their mother tongue. Their knowledge of the native language was retained however, which was extremely useful. They were recruited for their loyalty and their skills. All of which was about to be put to the test. The ship lurched briefly, and Kaishi knew they were now in orbit above the planet.
The invasion had begun.
Inquisitor Ferenz Talan stood over the corpse of the Warboss Nekchoka, breathing deeply. The smell of sizzled Ork flesh, while unpleasant, signalled the end of the foul creature’s life, as its head had dissolved in a wave of superheated gas. The boss’ personal entourage of assorted Orks stood in stunned silence, amazed at the result of the duel.
The infighting came only when Roxana jumped down from the hole in the roof, bolt pistol and chainsword at the ready. The biggest Orks immediately began a fistfight worthy of any hiver-gang bar brawl. Talan grinned, and immediately jumped in, mace swinging, as the lesser Orks fled. Roxana shot them in the backs, and joined the close quarters fight.
In the end, any Ork that could have plausibly commanded the attack force had been eliminated from the equation. Aelian returned to his information gathering, while Roxana and Talan returned to the capital‘s high class district. The social was going ahead now that the enemy presence had been reduced to low level fighting, as the Governor had refused to believe that more xenos could be present in the system. The man liked parties a little too much, which would not bode well if it endangered Imperial interests. Of course, it would be Talan who decided where those interests lay.
“I can’t believe you went toe-to-toe with a warboss,” Roxana said flatly as they entered their hotel room, “Who do you think you are, Commissar Cain?”
Talan found himself amused at the reference to a hero of the Imperium, who had famously duelled a war boss during the Siege of Perlia among other numerous achievements. Talan found something off with him, but then, as one of Inquisitor Vail’s acolytes, that wasn’t unusual. Only the Emperor only knew what she needed him for. Regardless, the decision to fight the warboss personally had been necessary, in order to avoid a withering counterattack.
Talan inspected the room as he shed his bloodstained armour. The blue carpet and wood panelling gave off a low sort of luxury, and the closet was empty. The drinks cabinet was respectably full however, to the Inquisitor’s relief. His heart almost stopped after he noticed the double bed in the middle of the room.
“Something wrong?” said Roxana, taking off her own bloodied fatigues to reveal a white undershirt that hugged her features in ways that astounded male senses. Talan was almost embarrassed at the woman’s not-so-subtle actions. Almost.
“Nothing,” he said, sitting on the bed, “Just wondering what your intentions are exactly with this?”
He thumbed at the bed.
“All in good time,” Roxana replied, undressing herself further behind the Inquisitor‘s back, “Remember the first time we met?”
“It’s a bit hard to forget when a genestealer tries to eat you on your first cult discovery as an Inquisitor,” Talan said, re-examining his memory in his head.
“Good,” said the rogue trader, and inspected herself in the mirror.
Talan grabbed his own formalwear and changed in the bathroom. He exited wearing a black casual suit with Roxana’s trade logo on the jacket, under his highly decorated combat webbing, which contained his meltagun and mace. Rogue traders were armed at all times where possible, after all.
The sight when he left the bathroom would be the envy of many. Roxana had changed into a deep red dress, which hugged her form somewhat, but left enough to the imagination to be considered highly respectable. Strategically placed rubies studded the material, giving it a rigidity in places, and the cloth reached the floor easily. All in all, it complimented the rogue trader’s natural beauty very well.
“How do I look?” she asked.
Talan decided not to play her game, despite his instincts stirring strongly against his decision, and simply shrugged.
The trip to the reception hall was quiet, as both the Inquisitor and the Rogue Trader lost themselves in thought. The groundcar finally pulled up to the doors, and the two stepped inside. The high glass ceiling was supported by elaborately decorated metal pillars, which seemed to pierce the wooden floor like stalagmites. The walls were draped with the heraldry and colours of the colonial noble class, and the party was in full swing, as there was much chatter that almost drowned out the music.
Talan walked a step or two behind Roxana in keeping with their cover, until they reached the chief servant.
“Captain Bactriana and escort,” the chief announced, which caused many heads to turn in the direction of the pair. Among them was Colonel Mieza, who immediately dropped her jaw at the sight of two newcomers.
“Oh frak,” Talan muttered to himself, which earned him a glance from Roxana.
“I’ll see you later then,” she said, in a tone that could have been either hostility or impatience.
Talan wandered over to Mieza‘s position near the wine table, negotiating the gaps between talkative noblemen with practiced ease. She was wearing full dress uniform, which enhanced her beauty a tad more than a dress would have in Talan’s opinion. The bolt pistol at her side was ornate as usual.
“Who is that?” Artemis asked.
“An agent of mine,” he replied, “Have you talked to the governor?”
“He hasn’t shown up yet, but sent word ahead to start regardless,” she said, noticing the clear change of subject, “What’s she do?”
“She distracts noblemen while I eavesdrop,” Talan whispered into her ear, and then kissed her on the cheek. The Colonel seemed to relax afterwards, though not by much, keeping her eyes firmly on the rogue trader.
Talan retrieved a glass of wine, and sipped it casually as he waited for the Governor to show up.
He turned away, and eavesdropped on two Administratum adepts for a few minutes, pretending to speak to Artemis. They were talking about the administration of the native areas, which Talan found amusing for a little while until he received a tap on the shoulder.
Roxana was behind him, some sycophants and/or admirers in tow. Artemis seemed to be just as ambushed as Talan was.
“Darling, aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?” Roxana started, two fingers touching Talan on the shoulder.
“Eh, certainly,” Talan said slowly, “Artemis, this is Roxana Bactriana, captain of a fringe trade ship with the Lue Trading Guild. Roxana, this is Colonel Artemis Mieza of the 16th Berdamian Armoured Regiment, his Majesty’s Imperial Guard.”
The two women made to shake hands, but were interrupted as one of the adepts suddenly swung a sword between them. The pair dodged it admirably. Talan immediately struck with his mace, forcing the traitor back. The rogue trader and the colonel, their hands already at their weapons before the attack, instantly gunned the man down with twin barks of their bolt pistols. Panic erupted as nobles and waiters alike rushed the doors to get out.
The three glanced between each other, and then around the room. Against the tide of escaping civilians, a few people were making directly for Talan, melee weapons in hand.
“I suspect our cover is blown,” he said.