The following is Part 1 of Chapter Three of my novel submission to Black Library, entitled Only War.
Chapter One, Part 1 is located here.
Chapter One, Part 2 is located here.
Chapter One, Part 3 is located here.
Chapter One, Part 4 is located here.
Fio’o Yen’yr, the dignified senior member of the earth caste, spoke first. “Do go on, Shas’o.”
Shas’o He’shi was a brute of a tau: tall, powerful, and ugly as sin. His deep voice rumbled in his barrel chest when he spoke. “The vessel is the Imperial Navy destroyer Cyrene, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Griggs. Two tau’cyr ago Griggs and the officers under his command defected to the Tau Empire.” He let that sink in for a moment. “When they defected they delivered their ship along with them. As far as the Imperial Navy knows, the ship is simply missing. With the well-known uncertainties inherent in travel through the immaterium, this is hardly an uncommon occurrence. Since their defection, Griggs and his officers have provided us with much intelligence, and the ship has given us much insight into the latest Imperial technology.” The mention of technological study brought with it many covert glances in the direction of the earth caste contingent. Fio’o Yen’yr sat with his arms crossed, his face as impassive as stone. Shas’o He’shi continued, unconcerned with his opinion.
“Several rotaa ago we instructed Griggs to lead his vessel on a token attack on the Au’kunas...”
Por’o R’ny, the senior leader of the water caste cut him off in mid-sentence. “You’re telling me that two tau’cyr ago, an Imperial Navy vessel defected to us,” she said, her voice steadily rising in pitch and volume. “Since then, you have kept this information from the council, gathered intelligence on the gue’la, studied their technology, and then used the gue’la and their stolen vessel to attack one of our own ships?” By the time R’ny finished she was on her feet, leaning aggressively over the table.
“The purpose of this attack was twofold,” continued He’shi, refusing to acknowledge the Por’o’s outburst. “First, an attack on one of our vessels by the Imperial Navy is a very serious matter. The gue’la have yet to take our trade proposals seriously. Your reports have repeatedly said so,” he said, staring Por’o R’ny in the eye. “Accusing the gue’la of attacking one of our ships will be a powerful bargaining chip in the negotiations. Second, it was no secret that the Au’kunas was transporting the Anacostian ambassador. He will certainly not take kindly to being on board a vessel attacked by his own navy. The ambassador is already suspected to be sympathetic to the Tau Empire. We have seen to it that he has received nothing but the best treatment since the attack. During the attack itself his wife was nearly killed. Indeed, the heroic actions of Shas’o Olan’dre here,” he said, gesturing to Olan’dre, seated to his immediate left, “saved her life. Right now, the ambassador undoubtedly looks more favorably upon us than he does his own government.”
“You killed several tau, and risked the lives of hundreds more just to get their ambassador to like us?” Por’o R’ny shouted.
“It was for the Greater Good of the Tau Empire,” He’shi said piously.
“How dare you hide behind the tau’va! You ordered the deaths of tau citizens with your irresponsible plotting!"
“Those of the air and fire castes are accustomed to taking risks, Por’o, and if necessary laying down their lives for the good of the empire.”
“Spare me your pompous self-righteousness. You did not inform the rest of the council. This is unconscionable!”
“This was done with the knowledge of the air caste,” Kor’o Ar’eldi of the air caste said quietly. The rest of his contingent looked at him in surprise, the revelation clearly being news to them as well.
R’ny blinked, then turned her attention to Ar’eldi, her long braided locks whipping around. “It certainly wasn’t done with my knowledge. Let alone my permission.”
He’shi snorted his contempt at the last remark, earning himself a venomous glare from R’ny.
“I am more curious to know if this was done with the knowledge of Aun’eoro’ea’siral,” said Fio’o Yen’yr in his resonant baritone.
Kor’o Ar’eldi hesitated, then said, “Our Aun was made aware of the plan, and gave her permission to execute it.”
“How aware?” pressed R’ny.
“Your continued questioning is unseemly, Por’o,” snapped Shas’o He’shi. “Our Aun made her decision, and we shall all abide by it. If our Aun chose not to inform you of her decision, it is not for you to question her.”
Por’o R’ny’s face twitched angrily, but she sat down. In a calmer voice she continued. “We have worked hard to establish a diplomatic relationship with the gue’la on Anacostia. It has been long and arduous, but progress is being made. We cannot have all that effort be undermined by this deception!”
“And you accuse me of self-righteousness?” He’shi asked mildly. “Your diplomacy is as filled with deception as much as any war.” He shrugged. “Diplomacy is merely war by other means. Both are methods of getting your adversary to do what you want him to. War is the hard method. Diplomacy is the soft method, sometimes too soft. Frequently it needs a nudge, lest it stagnate.”
“This ‘nudge’, as you so eloquently call it, will set back our efforts by tau’cyrs. Do you seriously expect them to fall for this...this ruse?” Her voice dripped with skepticism.
“As you have said, their command structure is fractured. The Navy will deny it, but there is every reason to believe that Governor Siderone will not believe them. Despite the arguments against it, most of you here had already convinced yourselves it had to be the Navy.”
Before anyone could object, Kor’o Ar’eldi continued for He’shi. “It is recognized that not all of us are in agreement as to the course of action that was taken. But it has been done, and we must press forward now. We must voice a strongly worded protest against this event to the gue’la. Also, we must cultivate our relationship with the gue’la ambassador.”
“With respect, Kor’o,” Por’o R’ny hissed, “the water caste knows how to handle the diplomatic matters. I can assure you that we will do our best to clean up the mess you have gotten us into.”
“We never should have allowed the fire caste to serve in a diplomatic role,” muttered one of the other Por’o’s.
Up to this point Shas’o Olan’dre was happy to let He’shi do all the talking, but he was not about to let that one pass. “I believe it was a good decision turning that over to us,” he said. “I have already cultivated a relationship with Ambassador Aquitaine. We are both warriors. In our conversations over the past several rotaa I have established a rapport with him that I doubt the water caste could duplicate. In fact, doing so has been easy.”
“Then I am sure you would not object if I fired a few shots with a pulse pistol at the target range and then declared that warfare is easy,” the Por’o scoffed.
“I would be more than happy to take you along on a combat mission, Por’o,” said Olan’dre, leaning forward in his chair. “It would only be fair, after all.”
One of the earth caste leaders, Fio’o Men’ro, cleared his throat. Ignoring the daggers between the Por’o and Olan’dre, he looked pointedly at Shas’o He’shi. “Por’o R’ny says we are making progress, albeit slow progress, on the diplomatic front. I am curious as to why you believe such a provocative action was necessary now of all times,” he said.
“You surprise me, Fio’o. I would think that more than any of us the earth caste would know the reason.”
OPALLIOS NAVAL STATION
“It’s clear that the tau are drooling over the Plexus Nebulosa,” said Commander Eiseley, her voice muffled. She was stuffing her face with a sandwich with a total lack of self-consciousness. Her uniform coat was draped over her chair, and she was leaning forward, propped up on her elbows to allow the rapid consumption of her lunch. Kaeper regarded her with mild amusement.
For his part, Kaeper sat rigidly upright, his coat buttoned up all the way, his sandwich barely touched. Instead, he was focusing on his fourth cup of psidian of the day. Eiseley had introduced him to the Anacostian fruit juice on his first day at the station, and now he was completely obsessed with it. They sat in one of the small conference rooms off of the main office, co-opted as a break room. During periods of high activity, the Signals Intelligence Section did not have much time to visit the mess deck, and so a servitor was frequently dispatched to retrieve lunches for the staff. The convenience of the method had since developed it into a common practice, regardless of the present workload.
“They’ve been sending scout ships to the region for years now,” Eiseley continued between bites, “and it’s been accelerating recently. Their ambassador has brought up the Plexus in passing multiple times, almost as if he’s been instructed to feel us out on it. Also, many of the intercepts we have from their embassy make mention of the P’da’sha’laivau, which means ‘place of dark gas filaments’. That has to mean the Plexus. They think they’re being circumspect, but...” She grinned, shaking her head. “They know we claim the whole region as Imperial territory, despite the fact that we only have a few outposts there. And the colony on Danoan, of course. But there’s not much there to get in their way if they really want to make a move.” She paused, looking at him expectantly.
“You mean...not much, except for the Fleet,” he said over the rim of his cup.
“That’s right,” she said, beaming. “The presence of Battlefleet Anacostia is the primary reason they haven’t taken it already.”
“So they want to expand into the Plexus to colonize it?”
“Not only that. We have reason to believe they are very short on natural resources.” Kaeper raised his eyebrows at that. “Reports from rogue traders have indicated that the tau are hungry for raw materials. The market in heavy metals has steadily grown for years now. In fact, the rogue traders are making a killing selling them the stuff.”
“We should get in on that,” Kaeper murmured.
"The planets of the Plexus are loaded with untapped resources. It’s the natural place for them to expand both their population and their economy.”
“All right, if the Plexus is so great, why haven’t we taken advantage of it ourselves?”
“That’s the problem. The warp storms in the Plexus are rather vicious. So far we have plenty of resources in other parts of the sector. Enough that it doesn’t make economic sense yet to exploit the Plexus. The risk is too high that we’ll lose lots of ships.”
“And the tau don’t have that problem, since their ships don’t fully enter the warp,” Kaeper concluded for her. “But if we risk losing ships, would we really commit the fleet, should the tau invade?”
“That’s for Admiral Macerian to decide.” She finished her sandwich and licked her fingers. A lock of hair had come loose from her bun and fell past her right eye. “He’d do it,” Eiseley continued between licks. “He’s not known for being timid.”
Kaeper took a thoughtful sip of his psidian, then put it down and scratched his chin. “You know, there’s a chance they could try to take out the fleet,” he ventured, looking her in the eye. “One thing I’ve noticed is that most of the fleet just sits here in port.”
Eiseley shook her head. “No way. The fleet’s too big. There’s a reason it’s kept together, and that’s to make any attack on it suicidal. We have two dozen capital ships and tons of frigates and destroyers. It’s by far the largest fleet concentration in the sector. No way,” she repeated. “If the tau are going to make a move, they’ll go straight for the Plexus itself. Probably try to be sneaky about it, too. Just move in and take a few planets without attacking us directly. Or at least, not anytime soon. They’ll keep up with the diplomacy as long as they can, and only attack as a last resort.”
“I’d argue the diplomacy is already failing. Their ambassador was just almost assassinated, after all,” Kaeper pointed out.
“True,” she conceded. “that has to give them pause. If our civilians act like that to their diplomats, imagine the reaction they’d get if they tried to start a war.”
“We might have already started it. Murdering a diplomat is serious business.”
“Attempted murder,” she corrected him. She tilted her head to one side. “You seem convinced that a war is inevitable. Don’t you think you’re being a bit cynical?”
“Not really,” Kaeper said, shrugging. “I’m used to fighting orks. With them it’s not a matter of if they will attack, but a matter of when.”
“Don’t worry. The tau aren’t like that at all.”
Stay tuned for Part 2...