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.
Among the hundreds of tau buildings in Al’usia, with their subtle geometries and curvilinear designs, there was one that stood out from the rest as undeniably alien. The Anacostian chancery stood tall and narrow with a steeply gabled roof, spired turrets, and an octagonal corner tower standing forty-five meters tall, making it one of the tallest buildings in the city. A mighty imperial aquila adorned the front facade. Blind arcades with pointed arches dominated the chancery flanks, clerestory windows above them. Despite the obvious Imperial design, tau influence was also evident in the building’s construction. The building and its surrounding wall were faced with the same gleaming white aragonite and iridescent roofing as the rest of the city, resulting in an unique blend of Imperial and tau architectural styles.
Even if it had been built with less sublime materials, Shas’o Olan’dre had to admit that he found the chancery attractive. As a member of the fire caste, Olan’dre had studied gue’la combat methods, and found that for the most part they lacked subtlety. They did not typically give much thought to tactical efficiency, instead relying on brute force. Yet in their constructions Olan’dre could see that the gue’la did not lack in attention to detail. The complexity and grandeur of their architecture suggested an acumen that belied their brutality in war.
After the guards at the gates verified his identity, Olan’dre’s skimmer was allowed entry into the grounds. His driver parked, and he and his aide were led into the building, escorted by a pair of grim embassy guards bearing lasguns. The hooves of the two tau clopped on the marble floor as they entered the narthex, distinct from the softer tread of the guardsmen’s rubber-soled boots. Olan’dre was escorted upstairs to the ambassador’s office, where he was shown in immediately.
Ambassador Aquitaine was standing at the multipaned pointed arch windows, looking at the view of the river, his hands clasped behind his back. “Good morning, Shas’o,” he said, continuing to look outside.
“Good morning,” Olan’dre replied, remaining respectfully by the door.
“Please, come in,” Aquitaine said, beckoning him. Olan’dre walked over to stand beside him. The wide river was already filling up with small sailboats. A fresh breeze had picked up soon after sunrise, turning the river’s surface into a deep mottled sapphire. Olan’dre glanced at Aquitaine’s profile, but was unable to discern anything from his expression.
“How is your wife?” he ventured.
“She is recovering. Her mood has become fouler, so that is a sign of improvement.”
“I regret that our surgeons were unable to save her leg.”
Aquitaine said nothing for a moment, then turned, looking Olan’dre in the eye. “I would like to thank you,” he said slowly, giving weight to his words. “If not for you, I would be without a wife today.”
Olan’dre felt that an attempt to brush off the gratitude would ring false and perhaps even be insulting to a fellow warrior, so he simply nodded.
After a moment he spoke. “Has she decided yet whether...” Olan’dre hesitated, unsure how to continue.
“She has decided to accept the prosthetic,” Aquitaine finished for him. “The surgeons will do the implantation and integration tonight.”
Olan’dre had heard some of details of what happened when Lady Aquitaine was told her leg required amputation, and they weren’t pretty. In response to her initial reaction she needed immediate sedation. Later she declared that she did want any sort of tau technology on her body. Olan’dre knew that sending her back to Anacostia for surgery would take weeks, especially since she refused to ever travel on a tau vessel ever again, and there were no gue’la ships presently nearby to transport her. Bringing a qualified Anacostian medicae team to the Viridis Sept would take nearly as long.
“Two things did it for her, I believe,” Aquitaine continued. “Seeing the stump has been traumatizing for her, so more than anything, she wants an immediate solution. At first she wanted a cloned graft, but they take time to grow. But when she found out that your earth caste could produce a prosthetic that would look and feel like a “youthful” human leg, and would remain so permanently, her eyes lit up like you wouldn’t believe.” He smiled wryly. “She actually wanted a hand in its design.”
“I hope she is pleased; I know that the surgeons will craft it with the utmost care.” After a pause he said, “It is the least we can do. That we allowed this tragedy to happen shames me.”
“I might have wished that my mission had begun more auspiciously,” said Aquitaine, “but you and your people have shown us nothing but the best hospitality. I am grateful for that.”
Olan’dre avoided responding directly by changing the subject. “Unfortunately we haven’t learned anything new about the vessel that attacked,” he said, allowing some frustration to creep into his voice. “All indications are that it was a vessel of the Imperial Navy, but...” he trailed off, expressing awkwardness.
Aquitaine grunted. “I have already sent an astropathic message to my government, asking for an explanation They have not yet replied.” From his tone Olan’dre sensed that “ask” more likely meant “demand”.
Aquitaine turned away from the window and began to pace. “I simply cannot believe that the Navy would attack your vessel,” he continued. “And attacking the vessel with me--the Imperium’s own ambassador!--on board makes it all the more egregious.” Olan’dre thought he detected more anger than embarrassment in Aquitaine’s voice, which he thought was significant.
“I am sure that one way or another we will get to the bottom of it,” Olan’dre said.
“Oh yes, we will,” Aquitaine said. Olan’dre’s intentional vagueness in his choice of pronoun had been subtle, but when Aquitaine reciprocated, Olan’dre took it as another promising sign.
A few minutes later Olan’dre departed Aquitaine’s office, the Shas’o promising to deliver to the ambassador the analyses and sensor data of the attack; the ambassador promising to inform the tau of the Imperium’s response to his message.
As he walked back outside to his waiting skimmer, Olan’dre allowed himself the hint of a smile. It was clear that despite his expression of disbelief, Aquitaine thought that the Imperial Navy was guilty. The plan to get Aquitaine to turn against them was off to a good start. Once he did, he would make a valuable asset for the Empire if it came to war. He liked Aquitaine, and while turning him to the Tau Empire entailed no small amount of deception and manipulation, it was necessary for the Greater Good. As he asserted in the council meeting, Olan’dre decided that diplomacy was turning out to be rather easy. It reminded him of the Kauyon strategy: judiciously plant seeds of encouragement here, a few seeds of doubt there, and your adversary could be manipulated straight into your ambush. Like a wary li’liss’la, Aquitaine would have to be handled carefully, but if gently encouraged, he could be persuaded to turn, thinking all the while that it was his own idea from the start. Olan’dre allowed himself a self-congratulatory smile. Despite being fire caste, he thought he’d have made a good diplomat.
Immediately after Shas’o Olan’dre closed the door behind him, Aquitaine’s angry expression evaporated. He waited five minutes, passing the time by admiring the view out the window, then walked down the hall toward the office of the embassy’s resident astropath.
Not bothering to knock on the door, Aquitaine walked right in to see the blindfolded astropath put out a match with graceful flick of her wrist, the candle on her desk freshly lit.
Adept Aillele’s office was a spartan, windowless room whose only decoration was an iron imperial aquila that adorned the wall behind her desk. Aside from the candle, the desk was strewn with several items which served no logical purpose: a small chunk of uncut lazurite, a threadbare, fingerless wool glove, and a yellowed frond from an Anacostian palm.
Smoke rose in a delicate wisp from the newly extinguished match, blown into oblivion by the wind of the door when Aquitaine entered. The candle flame flickered. Aillele gracefully placed the match on the desk as Aquitaine closed the soundproof door and sat down.
“You have another message to send, sir?” she asked, an eyebrows raised querulously above the confines of the blindfold.
Aquitaine crossed his legs with practiced nonchalance and began to fiddle with the buttons on the cuff of his suit coat. “Yes,” he confirmed, not bothering to look at her. “This one is to Lieutenant Commander Griggs, on the Cyrene. Encryption level omicron-chi. Begin message: Superlative work. Stand by for further orders.”
* * *
And that concludes my submission for Only War. If you've slogged this far through my writing, thank you for taking the time to read it. The story did in fact continue--I had a decent draft of Chapter Four and part of Chapter Five written, as well as an outline of the rest of the novel. However, since Black Library rejected it, the work has been shelved. I next between working on what would be a loose sequel to Only War, entitled The Charge of the Danoans, which chronicled an early campaign in the war between the Tau Empire and the Imperium. The following posts will serialize the first three chapters of that story.