The following is Part 2 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 stood by his spacious office’s large, gently curving window, looking out upon the verdant karst peaks that surrounded the city of Al’usia. Due to their stoic, practical nature it was easy to think the earth caste would not consider aesthetics to be a high priority, but their works made that fallacy eminently clear. When Viridis was originally colonized, the earth caste surveyors studied dozens of potential locations for the capital city, and the location of Al’usia was chosen as much for its natural beauty as for anything else. The steep, round-topped peaks were platinum grey and veined with white where the limestone was exposed, but were almost entirely covered in foliage that was a deep blue-green. The crystal clear Li’por river languidly wound its way among the mountains. On a small plain on the riverbanks the surveyors had chosen their location for Al’usia. The earth caste engineers designed the layout of the city with wide avenues lined with cassia trees, now beginning to bloom with brilliant violet flowers. The earth caste architects took over, constructing elegant buildings sheathed in aragonite that glittered a pearlescent gold in the sun of the early evening. Iridescent roofs and domes flickered through the spectrum between teal and indigo. Tau pedestrians and passenger skimmers thronged the pristine streets, and the river was peppered with small recreational multihulls with brightly colored sails.
Fio’o Men’ro paced back and forth, his hands clasped behind his back. “I have never seen the Por’o that upset,” he vented. “She looked ready to tear the Shas’o’s head off.” Fio’o Y’caor sat in a chair against the far wall, watching Men’ro’s pacing, for the moment content to observe her comrade do all the complaining.
After a moment Fio’o Yen’yr turned to face his junior Fio’o. “He’shi has been fighting the or’es’la for much of his life,” he replied. “Fanged monsters twice as tall and six times more massive than us. They are somewhat scarier than Por’o R’ny.”
Men’ro sighed. “That may be so, but members of the high council yelling at each other like that is unprecedented.”
Yen’yr sniffed with wry amusement. “You haven’t been on the council as long as I have.”
“I think her anger is justified, though. Where does he get off being so secretive?”
“All the castes have their secrets,” said Yen’yr, his words carefully chosen to elicit a response.
“Individual tau do. The castes do not. That way leads to the mont’au,” Men’ro said firmly.
“Still, he did tell us of his own volition.”
“At a time of his choosing,” Men’ro said with some frustration, stopping his pacing and scowling at Yen’yr. “Fio’o, with respect, you seem to be defending him.”
“Merely playing opposition advocate,” said Yen’yr, raising a placating hand. “Continue to develop your analysis.”
“It seems clear to me that he never thought he could get agreement from the council to authorize an attack on a tau vessel. So he bypassed all of us, went straight to our Aun, and got authorization from her. Personally, I find it incredible that he got approval from the air caste.”
“If our Aun authorized it, then the air caste’s approval is ultimately irrelevant,” Y’caor pointed out.
"Indeed,” agreed Yen’yr. “And I don’t know that he did get approval from them. Ar’eldi said that it was done with the knowledge of the air caste--not with their approval.”
“Kor’o Ar’eldi does seem to be standing in He’shi’s shadow on this. Which is strange--the defection of a naval vessel naturally falls into the air caste’s sphere.”
“Ar’eldi has always been rather passive. In this case I suspect that the defection was Ar’eldi’s doing. He’shi then bulled his way in and came up with the idea to stage an attack.”
“Yes, the attack...” Men’ro said, and shook his head. “While the sept would certainly benefit from a speedy resolution to the diplomatic stalemate, an incident like this is too blatant to merely accelerate negotiations. I don’t buy He’shi’s explanation. It is more like he is making a justification for war.” He looked at his superior and reiterated his thought. “I think He’shi is spoiling for a war with the gue’la.”
“He’s fire caste. This surprises you?”
“No. I expect him to want to solve all problems by fighting. But I don’t see that our Aun would want to do so. I’m not about to question our Aun’s commands or motives, but what if...” Men’ro hesitated. “I fear that...” He stopped again, unwilling to finish the thought.
Yen’yr did it for him. “You are worried that He’shi was not being honest with our Aun.” He nodded ruefully. “I share your concern.”
Men’ro looked Yen’yr in the eye, deadly serious. “Do you think an audience with our Aun is called for?”
“That will happen, I assure you,” Yen’yr said. He walked to his chair, and leaned on the back of it, returning Men’ro’s serious gaze. “Men’ro, I don’t like how the fire and air castes studied this gue’la vessel without our knowing it. They would not have been able to learn much of anything from it without earth caste support. Somehow they got that support, but it was not from Fio’ar’tol. Keeping secrets is one thing, but co-opting members of our caste is quite another. Find out how that happened.”
He turned to Fio’o Y’caor. “I don’t share the Shas’o’s desire for secrecy,” Yen’yr continued. “The council, and more importantly our Aun, need to be fully informed in order to make rational decisions. I want you to prepare a report of our current economic situation.”
“As for me,” Yen’yr continued, “there is a reason that the fire caste is trying to make friends with the gue’la ambassador, and it goes beyond their altruism in assisting the water caste in improving diplomatic relations. I am going to find out what it is.”
Lord Admiral Jason Macerian, Commander of Battlefleet Anacostia, was beyond furious. He strode out of the doors to the Governor’s Palace and halted on the portico. He removed his peaked cap from under his arm and placed it on his head with a correctness that would put the Imperial Naval Manual of Drill and Ceremony to shame for its slovenly inattention to detail. He then proceeded down the steps. Wordlessly his aides fell in behind him. They knew that the more formal and emotionless their boss was, the more foul his mood.
The admiral’s barge sat idling on the ramp at the Governor’s personal spaceport, next to the Governor Siderone’s more stylish launch. Upon seeing him, the pair of naval security guards by the barge snapped to attention. Macerian boarded, sat down in his chair, strapped in, and took out a data slate to study during the trip back to orbit. The flight crew finished their run up procedures and had the barge airborne in less than a minute.
The previous day the Governor had summoned him to his palace to discuss a serious matter. The summoning was a serious breach of protocol. The admiral was the senior naval officer of the subsector; no mere planetary governor had any power to order him to do anything. Thus when Macerian was informed by his aide of the summons, he placidly told him that he would be ignoring it. Macerian was sure that what followed was a series of frantic backchannel negotiations. The admiral’s aides would inform the governor’s aides of the impropriety, who would respond indignantly to the insult of the unanswered summons. They would go back and forth, each asserting the superiority in rank of their respective bosses while attempting to arrange a meeting between them. The communications would become more pedantic as the negotiations progressed, in direct proportion to the growing rage and hatred of the negotiators.
Admiral Macerian judged that his aides had won the battle of protocol, as the following morning he was presented with another message from the governor, this one a polite invitation, not a summons. He had accepted it, and traveled down to the planet’s surface to meet with the governor in his palace to discuss his concerns.
Macerian was well aware of the subject of those concerns. His astropaths had intercepted the message Ambassador Aquitaine sent to Governor Siderone, describing the alleged attack by a Imperial Navy Destroyer on the tau warship transporting him. Aquitaine’s description of the attack was vivid, all but accusing the Navy of attempting to murder him and his gracious hosts. Macerian knew little of Aquitaine, other than he was a decorated Imperial Guard general officer fresh from the crusade against the orks. But Aquitaine was a ground pounder. What did he know of naval matters? Macerian himself had dismissed the allegations out of hand, but the fact that the Imperial Ambassador was apparently on the side of the tau in this matter was troublesome. He would need to learn more about this man.
He was sure that despite the earlier misunderstanding in protocol, he and Siderone would professionally discuss Aquitaine’s ridiculous communiqué and its implications, and come to an understanding about how to handle the official tau accusation that would be sure to follow. Macerian would require that Aquitaine be replaced immediately. No one accused the Imperial Navy of such an action, and in such a manner, and survive politically.
The admiral was escorted into Siderone’s opulent office by the governor’s honor guard. Siderone stood up behind his desk when Macerian entered the office and the guard closed the door behind him.
“What in the Emperor’s name are you doing attacking a tau ship?” Governor Siderone demanded.
Macerian replied with a broadside. “You honestly believe that? What kind of brain dead xeno-loving idiot are you?”
The meeting went downhill from there.
Macerian himself was chomping at the bit for a chance to unleash his fleet upon the tau, but was well aware of its primary purpose as a deterrent. The Arcadia Sector was a sector under siege. Eldar pirates, ork raiders, and a massive incursion of necrons had stretched the sector’s resources to the breaking point. The Imperium could not afford to get into another conflict in the sector until the other threats were neutralized. The Anacostia subsector was the only one that was not under constant harassment, and so for the time being it was a low priority in terms of cleansing it of xeno influence. The Imperium would buy time with lengthy negotiations, while deterring the tau from aggression by the presence of the fleet. The time would come to deal with them in a more permanent manner, but for now they were to be merely contained.
In the meantime Macerian was forced to tolerate Siderone’s belief that he was actually forging a legitimate relationship with the tau. Siderone’s wrath was genuine, and Macerian felt he truly believed that the Navy was behind the attack. Siderone was flirting with heresy, whether he knew it or not.
It took nearly an hour of continuous acceleration to bring the barge to a trajectory where it would reach geostationary orbit at apogee. Macerian looked out the window as the Opallios Naval Station came into view. The station was huge, nearly fifty kilometers long. At one end the station was shaped like a spade, containing the its primary habitation section, where nearly a hundred thousand naval personnel lived and worked. It was an orbital city, complete with everything from hab-blocks to commercial and recreational sections. From the habitation section, a central spine extended out some thirty-five kilometers, serving as a quay for the ships of the fleet. Docking arms branched from either side to accommodate the major vessels.
Macerian’s barge passed closely along one side of the station, giving the admiral an unparalleled view of the fleet. The first section of the quay contained eight berths for cruiser sized vessels, four on either side. The Mars-class battlecruisers Laconia and Epirus were docked there, bow first in their berths. Both vessels had long and distinguished careers in the sector. Next was an empty berth, but the one beyond held the heavy cruiser Canopus, currently undergoing a refit to its main battery.
Beyond the cruisers were the larger berths for the pride of the fleet: the battleships. There were nine of the impossibly massive ships present, moored broadside on both sides of the quay, their bulk dwarfing it between them. The mighty Retribution-class Calydonia and Pallas had the first positions, followed by Messenia and the old Apocalypse-class Defiance. Next down the line were Thrace and Elysion, two more Retribution-class ships. Elysion was the most modern battleship in the Battlefleet, less than a century old, but already a veteran against the orks. Next, and berthed alone was Athene, the sister-ship to the Pallas. The two battleships had been completed within a year of each other over a thousand years ago, and had served with each other ever since. Finally, at the end of the quay was the Emperor-class battleship Righteous Power, one of the three major attack craft carriers of the Battlefleet. Next to her lay the flagship of Battlefleet Anacostia, the venerable Apocalypse-class battleship Warspite.
Macerian admired her as the barge approached her port side. She was the oldest ship in the fleet, commanding respect throughout the sector, and indeed, the entire Segmentum. Warspite was a somber black, with a pair of bright white stripes down the length of her hull, framing her main armament, the ancient and immensely powerful lance batteries. Her armored prow was crowned with a massive golden imperial aquila that was said to contain shards of adamantium from the Emperor’s power armor.
The barge maneuvered among the towers and spires that made up the Warspite’s superstructure, a veritable city in itself, and descended to its docking bay, clamps locking it into place.
At the end of the docking terminal, assembled in their dress uniforms, were rank upon rank of officers and men, awaiting the admiral. A servitor piped his arrival with an ancient bo’sun’s pipe, and then announced his presence in an official monotone over the shipwide vox circuit. “Commander, Battlefleet Anacostia, arriving.”
The captain of the Warspite could tell what sort of mood the admiral was in just from the look on his face, and so wisely kept his mouth shut as he stepped aboard. He snapped to attention and made the sign of the aquila on his chest. The admiral returned the salute with a formality simmering with such ire that the captain nearly took an involuntary step backward. Macerian had only been gone since the morning, but he required the formal arrival ceremony every time he came aboard, regardless of how long he had been away. The Warspite was the flagship of Battlefleet Anacostia, and he wanted the crew to make sure they knew it. He knew that the pomp and ceremony was an exercise in maintaining high morale. Warspite was the pride of the fleet, and as such would be the standard by which all other ships would be measured.
Macerian proceeded down the line with a measured pace, not once looking at the men as he passed them in their pressed uniforms and brilliantly polished brass buttons, each one’s eyes locked rigidly forward. Reaching the end of the line, he stepped into the lift alone and did an about face. The doors closed.
The lift stopped at the admiral’s deck, forward of the barge’s docking bay and several decks above the ship’s bridge. The naval security guards posted at the lift doors snapped to attention as he stepped out and walked to his quarters, where another pair of guards were posted. He grimly walked past them and inside.
The door closed behind him. He took his cap off and placed it on the table, and with that action he allowed himself to relax a little. A steward servitor walked over wordlessly as he began to unbutton his uniform coat, standing ready to take it away to be cleaned and pressed. Macerian ignored it, then turned as there was a knock at the door. “What is it?”
His flag-lieutenant entered, bearing a data slate. The man had served Macerian for almost a decade, and his familiarity made him well aware of the admiral’s moods and how to avoid being the attention of his wrath. “Good afternoon, my lord. I thought you would want to see this directly. Orders from COMBATFLTARC,” he said, holding out a data slate.
“Read it to me,” the admiral said, continuing to unbutton his coat.
“From: Commander, Battlefleet Arcadia, to: Commander, Battlefleet Anacostia. 1.0 Orders: In accordance with fleet deployment requirements, you are directed to release the vessels listed in section 2.0 of this order from your command effective immediately. 1.1 These vessels are to...”
“Which vessels?” He draped his jacket over a chair back and reached up to unbutton his shirt. The servitor took up the coat by the collar with both hands, giving it a quick shake by snapping its wrists forward. It placed the coat on a hanger, picked up the admiral’s cap, and walked away.
“Battleship Cydonia, Battlecruisers Epirus, Laconia, Capella, Canopus. Attack Craft Carrier Prometheus. Heavy Cruisers Bellator, Conqueror, Mirzam. Light Cruisers...”
“Emperor’s Throne,” the admiral hissed, tightening his jaw.
The flag-lieutenant paused and looked up, then made as if to continue. Macerian cut him off. “Never mind. I’ll read it myself.” The flag-lieutenant handed the data slate to him, and Macerian paced over to the large window forward. The window gave him an enviable view the Athene moored directly ahead, the Righteous Power to starboard, and the massive waning gibbous of Anacostia to port, forty thousand kilometers away. He ignored the vista and read the slate, his anger building. Finishing, he slowly lowered the slate to his side, resisting the urge to hurl it to the deck. Macerian looked out the window for several moments, his flag-lieutenant standing at ease back at the table. The servitor reappeared, taking a position discreetly by the bulkhead, bearing a fresh coat and cap. A battleship, four battlecrusiers, one carrier, five cruisers, and more than two dozen escorts--gone. Battlefleet Anacostia was supposed to deter the tau from trying anything, and it was hardly going to do that if it was whittled down to nothing.
Macerian turned. “Lieutenant. Signal the ships mentioned in the order and have them make ready for departure. I want a report on how this order will affect our readiness, and new intelligence estimates of the tau fleet. OPLAN 11 must be updated to accommodate these changes. Also I want a dossier prepared on Ambassador Aquitaine. At once.”
Stay tuned for Chapter Three, Part 3...