Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Writing: Only War, Chapter One, Part 3

The following is Part 3 of Chapter One of my novel submission to Black Library, entitled Only War.  

Part 1 is located here.
Part 2 is located here


Kor’el Galeio, captain of the Emissary-class cruiser Au’kunas, floated easily in the ship’s Tactical Direction Center.  TDC was a large room, dominated by a holographic tactical display forward, several tor’leks across.  Multiple rows of consoles lined the bulkheads, manned with air caste technicians reclining in acceleration couches.  In the center of TDC was Galeio’s command couch, and to either side of it were those of the executive officer and the tactical action officer.   

The Au’kunas had just deactivated its gravitic wing on a routine navigational stopover.  Within an hour the navigator would have made his required fixes and the gravitic wing would have sufficiently recharged for the next leg of their journey to the Viridis Sept.  The stopover at this planetary system was standard procedure for tau starships passing through this region of space.  The planet was within the outskirts of the Plexus Nebulosa, and for navigational safety, any vessel travelling through the Plexus made frequent periodic stops to confirm their position.  Warp travel in the Plexus was a risky affair, even for tau vessels, which never actually crossed the boundary into the warp.

Online within raik’ans of the ship’s emergence, the Au’kunas’ passive sensors began searching the sky, looking for any anomalies.  Dominating the area was a gas giant, designated H’ar’n’lis, only a few hundred thousand tor’kan away.  The ship entered a high inclination orbit well out of the planet’s ring plane, minimizing the collision hazard.   

The XO was monitoring the gravitic wing on his console.  “Recharge rate is a little slow, but nothing to worry about,” she said.  “Just in case, I’ll have them check it out.”  The captain nodded, not taking his eyes off the master tactical display.  Even though they did not expect to see anything, out of habit he wanted to see for himself that the space around the ship was all clear.

A yellow icon appeared on the master tactical display.  “Contact, designate Anuk-1, bearing two-four-three by six-eight for twenty-two thousand,” announced the Tactical Sensor Supervisor.

The XO looked up from her console.  “That’s odd, we weren’t expecting anything here.  And that’s pretty close, too.”  In a more authoritative voice she added, “Get me a classification, please.”

“Course change.  Anuk-1 is maneuvering.”  And after a pause, “Anuk-1 is now on a converging course, estimated closest approach two thousand tor’kan.”

The captain and XO exchanged a questioning look.


Shas’o Olan’dre walked toward the door to the Anacostian Ambassador’s quarters.  Olan’dre was a lean, broad-shouldered fire warrior with strong cheekbones and chin, confidently handsome.  His skin was a smooth, rich slate grey, just beginning to show wrinkles around dark eyes that had squinted into the sun on many battlefields.  A shas’la guard stood at the door, watching him approach, and saluting him with an open palm on his chest.  Olan’dre returned the salute, then hesitated at the door.  Through the bulkhead he could hear the voice of Lady Aquitaine, the ambassador’s wife.  He waited, unwilling to interrupt what was clearly a tirade.  After a moment, he realized that the ambassador might actually appreciate the interruption, and pressed the chime.  

One of Lady Aquitaine’s personal servants opened the door, and announced the Shas’o’s presence.  The ambassador, Lord Gabriel Aquitaine, retired Lieutenant General of the Imperial Guard, hurried to the door.  Aquitaine was a half a head taller than Olan’dre, who was by no means short for a tau.  In contrast to Olan’dre’s charming good looks, Aquitaine was handsome in a grim sort of way, his face scarred and weather-beaten.  Penetrating grey eyes gazed out from under expressive, judging brows.  One cheek was cratered and scarred from what must have been a multitude of tiny fragment wounds, bits of black soot permanently discoloring the skin.  Covering his right ear was a box-like metallic augmetic, probably a primitive auditory prosthesis, Olan’dre judged.  Aquitaine’s thick black hair was beginning to go grey along the temples.  His bearing had the pride of a career military man, upright and confident. 

Yet the pained expression on Aquitaine’s face revealed the difficulty he was currently having appeasing his wife.  Being a ground pounder, Lord Aquitaine was uncomfortable enough with space travel.  Lady Aquitaine, on the other hand, was used to being pampered, and the conditions aboard the starship, while decidedly opulent, were not at all to her liking.  The Emissary-class starship was designed with the express purpose of keeping its passengers happy.  Unlike many tau vessels, the Emissary-class was equipped to provide passenger berths with artificial gravity tailored to their environmental preferences.  Tau decorators had done their best to discover the tastes of their passengers and prepare the berths accordingly.  The ship’s cooks had spared no expense in providing Lady Aquitaine with anything her appetite desired.  Unwilling to countenance xeno attendants, she maintained her entourage of human servants.  Despite all this, she was not satisfied, as she railed to her husband about inadequacies ranging from the authenticity of the upholstery to the substandard preparation of the pastries she had just been served by her tau hosts.  The servants spread about the room endured the tirade in professional silence. 

In accented gothic, Shas’o Olan’dre quietly explained the purpose of his visit to the ambassador.  The ship was presently within visual range of a remarkable planet with an exquisite ring system, a sight not to be missed.  Aquitaine agreed and left with him at once, abandoning the servants to their fate.  The door shut automatically, mercifully cutting off his wife in mid-complaint.  “I apologize,” he said to the tau commander.  “Your hospitality has been magnificent, but I fear my wife is taking out her frustrations on you.”

Shas’o Olan’dre nodded politely.  He knew that human marital relations could be a delicate subject, and Olan’dre did not want to say something out of turn.  He gestured the way down the passage, and the two of them began to walk.

“I love her dearly,” Aquitaine continued, “but I think that this mission to Viridis may be too much for her.  Back on Anacostia, she was enjoying courtly life and being the center of attention among Anacostia’s elite.  Now she feels she’s being exiled, and dreads the loss to her status.”

“While the upper echelons of tau society are undeniably different from those of humans, I would like to think Lady Aquitaine will receive a warm welcome, and perhaps foment many lasting friendships among my people.”  

“I don’t intend this to be an insult, Shas’o,” Aquitaine said in a low voice, “but my wife is not very sanguine concerning your race.”

“Then we shall endeavor to change her opinion of us.  If we are to foster good relations with other races, we must do so one being at a time.”

“Are you sure you’re a member of the fire caste, Shas’o?” asked Aquitaine with a raised brow.  “You speak like one of your water caste comrades.”

“We learn from each other.”   

The further they walked down the passage, the less the artificial gravity, and Aquitaine’s dark wool coat began to assume a mind of its own.  “I should have left this behind,” he muttered, slapping it back down and inadvertently launching himself into the air.  Olan’dre took hold of his arm while hanging onto a bulkhead handgrip, and guided him back down to the deck.  As he descended, the heavy imperial aquila on a chain around his neck flew upward and whacked him on the forehead.  Cursing, Aquitaine tucked it under his shirt, and then grabbed for a handgrip himself.  

Reaching the end of a passage, the two entered a lift.  As he had been shown upon his first day aboard the tau vessel, Aquitaine aligned his feet onto markings on the floor.  Olan’dre watched him look with wonder as his feet were locked into place automatically by unseen molecular adhesives, the experience still novel to him.

After a mild acceleration, the lift rapidly reached its destination, and a gentle push-off sent them floating down the corridor, the gravity entirely gone in this section.  Light touches to the walls and ceiling kept them on course until they reached the observation deck.  

Beyond the nearly invisible observation dome was a massive crescent taking up half the sky.  Several rings arced around the planet, brightly backlit by the planet’s primary, out of sight behind them.  Parts of the ship’s hull and superstructure gleamed in the planetshine.  

They stood watching the scene in silence, until at length Aquitaine spoke.  “It reminds me of Sutaan,” he mused.


“Yes, we fought orks there.  That is, we fought the orks on Sutaan Quintus, one of Sutaan’s satellites.  But this view reminds me of what Sutaan looked like from Quintus’ surface.”

“We routinely have to deal with the or’es’la--ork raiders.  While we destroy them whenever we find them, they continue to plague us.  Do you still have problems with them?”

“Not at Sutaan we don’t,” Aquitaine said grimly.  “I made damn sure we killed every last one of them.”

 “With a race such as theirs, there is no other option.”

“That is the truth.”

Shas’o Olan’dre nodded.  Normally a fire warrior of his rank and position would have no reason to be on a mission such as this, the simple conveyance of an alien ambassador to the sept.  But this case was special.  The gue’la--the humans--were a touchy race, and it was imperative to get off on the right hoof with them.  The outgoing ambassador had never gotten along with his hosts, and remained holed up within the Anacostian chancery on Viridis, only venturing out when he was recalled home.  Once the tau discovered that Lord Aquitaine had been appointed ambassador to replace him, they ran a standard background investigation using all of the resources available to them.  The ambassador had lived a military life, serving in the Imperial Guard for over sixty years--longer than Olan’dre had even been alive.  Rejuvenat treatments kept him looking in his mid-thirties despite the scars and greying hair, and he remained physically and mentally fit.  Most of Aquitaine’s career had been served in the Favniran subsector, fighting orks on more than a dozen worlds, stamping them out wherever they appeared.  He had risen through the ranks from a lowly subaltern to commanding a regiment, then a brigade, division, and finally an entire corps.  After the subsector had quieted down, his command had been sent off piecemeal all over the sector to where they were needed while he remained behind.  Reduced to merely an administrative existence, Aquitaine chose to retire to Anacostia rather than wither on some obscure outpost.  Quickly he gained favor in Governor Siderone’s court, and was appointed ambassador to the tau, which perhaps surprisingly he accepted.   

Because of Aquitaine’s military background and personality profile, tau intelligence believed that Aquitaine would take to a fellow warrior faster than he would to the usual water caste diplomatic liaison.  When Olan’dre had greeted the ambassador and introduced himself, the ambassador seemed surprised to be met by someone of such similar background.  As soon as Olan’dre revealed that he had experience fighting orks, Aquitaine warmed up to him, and within minutes they were sharing war stories.  

“Like most ork held worlds,” Aquitaine said, “you can’t simply kill them all from orbit.  No matter how much the Navy pounds them, there will always be survivors, and the Imperial Guard has to go in and finish the job.” 

“My experiences have been the same,” Olan’dre said.  “On Urlas the Kor’vattra--that is, the tau fleet--bombarded the planet for weeks, and yet when the hunter cadres descended to the surface, the or’es’la poured out of their holes in the ground as if the bombardment never occurred.” 

“Sometimes I think that the Navy should send more officers to experience what it is like on the ground, then they might understand what we go through.”

Shas’o Olan’dre smiled.  “Agreed.”


“Unidentified contact,” the controller in TDC was saying, “you are approaching a starship of the Tau Empire, reference planetary proximal terminator bearing zero-one-three by negative three-six, range sixteen thousand tor’kan from you.  Request you establish communications, identify yourself and state your intentions.”

A moment later the Identification Supervisor spoke.  “Anuk-1 is classified as a gue’la warship, type destroyer, Nemesis-class.  Re-designate contact as Gue’leath-1.”   \

“An Imperial Navy warship?  Here?” asked the XO.

Kor’el Galeio’s brow was furrowed.

A high pitched beeping tone sounded, and everyone in TDC momentarily looked in the direction of the Electronic Warfare Supervisor.

“Sensor lock,” said the EWS.  “Anuk-1 is tracking us with fire control sensors.”

“Energize the active sensors.  We’ll give them one more chance,” said Galeio, nodding at the XO.

The XO turned to the controller.  “Warn them again."

“Unidentified contact, you are approaching a starship of the Tau Empire, reference planetary proximal terminator bearing zero-one-three by negative three-six, range fifteen thousand five hundred tor’kan from you.  Your identity is not known and your intentions are unclear.  You are standing into danger and may be subject to defensive measures.  Request you remain clear of me.  Request you alter course immediately to bearing zero-one-zero by negative two-zero to remain clear.” 

Several more raik’ans ticked by.  The contact’s track continued to close.   “A Nemesis isn’t a threat to us, we outmass them by ten times,” said the XO.   

Kor’el Galeio’s eyes were fixed on the tactical display.  “Let’s lock onto him with the ‘52,” he said.  “That should show him we’re serious.” 

“Fire Control, lock onto to Gue’leath-1 with the SL/F-52,” relayed the Tactical Action Officer.

A new tone sounded, a periodic, low pitched warble.  “Locked on,” reported the Fire Control Technician.  The track icon suddenly changed from yellow to purple, and a dozen purple warning icons flooded the display.

“Gue’leath-1 is firing!”

Stay tuned for Part 4...