Monday, January 14, 2013

Writing: Only War, Chapter Two, Part 1

The following is Part 1 of Chapter Two 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.



The lift doors opened, and two officers stepped out and walked down the long passageway, boots clacking on the metal grating.  Piping and electrical conduits were visible under the grates and along the underside of the deck above, taking their supplies of fluid, air, and electrons to Emperor knows where, following confused, interleaved paths only a tech-priest of the Adeptus Mechanicus could decipher.  With the spartan lighting and the mechanical innards all out in the open, not to mention the narrowness of the passageway itself, the interior was similar to a naval vessel.  In a naval base the economy of space wasn’t as necessary, but old traditions die hard.

Commander Amy Eiseley, Imperial Navy, Battlefleet Anacostia Naval Communications Division, Signals Intelligence Section, was dressed in the rarely seen naval whites, a concession to the generally tropical climate of the planet below.  Eiseley was slender and athletic, her long brown hair kept up and pinned while she was on duty.  Her eyes were wide-set, her nose pert.  She had a dancer’s spring in her step.  All that was missing from the image of her as one of the Emperor’s seraphim was a pair of white feathered wings.

She looked askance at her companion, still trying to get the measure of him.  Lieutenant Colonel Randal Kaeper, Imperial Guard, 11th Intelligence Group (Anacostia Subsector), was a lean, almost skinny man of medium height, slightly taller than Eiseley.  He wore the silver trimmed cobalt blue frock coat of his original regiment.  His trousers were a darker shade of the same blue, with silver stripes running down the outer seam.  His knee high boots were black, heavy and polished.  Kaeper’s prematurely receding hairline was made less relevant by the fact that he kept his hair half a centimeter long.  Eiseley thought the hairline and the severe cut gave him an age that he did not yet deserve.  His eyes were intelligent, confident, and a gentle brown that Eiseley found attractive.  She suspected that it was his unthreatening appearance as much as his intellect that earned him a billet in intelligence.

When Eiseley first heard about Kaeper’s new assignment, she could not help but research his background.  As an intelligence officer, it was second nature.  Born on a sparsely populated agrarian world, Kaeper had been drafted into the Imperial Guard and shipped off to the Favnirian subsector to fight in the crusade against the orks.  He excelled in his initial staff job, and was quickly assigned as regimental intelligence officer, and ended the crusade on the intelligence staff of the warmaster.  Afterwards, he was assigned to various postings throughout the sector, ultimately being posted to Battlefleet Anacostia as liaison between Naval Intelligence and Planetary Governor Siderone.  His job was to be the governor’s eyes and ears, and by extension, those of the Anacostian Planetary Defense Force and garrisoning Imperial Guard regiments.  He was to make use of the Navy’s extensive intelligence assets to keep the ground forces informed.

They reached their destination and Eiseley opened the door innocuously marked “Communications, Authorized Personnel Only”.  They entered a small office occupied by a petty officer sitting at a desk and a servitor skull which hovered in the corner of a room.  The petty officer stood up.  “Good morning, Commander,” he said pleasantly to Eiseley, then shifted his gaze to Kaeper.  “Colonel.”

“This is Lieutenant Colonel Randal Kaeper, 11th Intelligence Group,” Eiseley said, introducing him.  “He’s assigned to this section, effective today.”

“Yes, ma’am.”  The petty officer retrieved a handheld auspex from a desk drawer.  “Just a moment, sir,  I need to scan you,” he said, holding up the auspex in front of him.  The servitor skull floated over, a pict-recorder and other arcane sensing devices taking up half of its form.  It flew completely around Kaeper, recording him from every angle.   

“Will I have to be scanned every time I go in?” Kaeper asked.  

“No sir, this is just a precaution as this is your first time here.  The servitor will recognize you next time, and once we get your signature into the system, you’ll automatically be recognized on the internal augurs as well.”  They waited patiently for the scan to complete.  “Thank you, sir.  You’re clear to go in.”

Together they walked through the door into a large office space, which nonetheless looked cramped due to the low ceilings and the dozen desks that filled it.  At most of them were naval personnel working intently at terminals.  Other petty officers were at a central table, poring over large sheaves of hardcopy covered with runes--codestrings of tremendous length.  There were several servitors as well, one meticulously hand-copying a long scroll so long it spilled onto the floor, another typing keystrings into a arcane console.  None of the workers paid them any attention.  The desks were haphazardly arranged, each with cabling spilling over them to pass through the grating on the deck.  Filing cabinets had been placed wherever there was room, in some cases if they were opened they would block the path through the desks.  Eiseley led the way towards the back of the room, swaying her hips gracefully around the maze of protruding obstacles along the way.  

“Most intercepts from the subsector are routed here to Adept Rogovin, our resident astropath.” she said.  “He provides the raw data to the boys here, who try to decrypt them here,” she waved her hand, indicating the array of desks.  “Rogovin gets far more intercepts than he can handle alone, so we have a big backlog, and are forced to prioritze them.  I’ve been constantly trying to get another astropath assigned to us, but...” she trailed off, shrugging.

At the back corner of the room they stopped at another door, with an augur mounted by the handle.  “We’ll have to get you a signum ring.”  She held her hand in front of the augur, which scanned the ring on her finger, and with a click the door slid open.  Beyond was another room that was half office, half laboratory.  Air recycling units kept the room just cold enough to be unpleasant, and just loud enough that they had to raise their voices.  A petty officer at a desk by the door stood up as they entered.  “Jord, this is Lieutenant Colonel Kaeper.  Please be sure he gets access to all of the INDIGO sections.”  

“Aye, sir.  Pleased to meet you, sir.”

Kaeper nodded distractedly.  He was already looking at the massive cogitator that took up most of the far wall.  It consisted of several inelegant cabinet racks of memory slates and connector hubs, each with a myriad of wires going every which way.  A servitor that could fathom their convoluted pattern was standing by one rack, swapping out cabling.   

“This is INDIGO, our primary cogitator,” Eiseley said with pride.  “Among other things, it’s been programmed to decrypt the tau diplomatic codes.  The tau don’t have astropathic communications, so they’re restricted to either couriers or enciphered vox-transmissions.  Of course, if they just used the couriers, we’d never intercept anything.  Fortunately, the governor still will not allow them to land directly on the planet using their own transport, so they are forced send transmissions from their ships to the embassy on the planet.”  

“But they still send couriers through the Navy, right?” Kaeper asked.  “And you bring them down on your shuttles to the embassy as a courtesy.”  Eiseley smiled at the word courtesy.

“Occasionally, yes, but we find ways to cause delays and generally make it a pain for them to do that.  It’s a way to make our inefficiency work in our favor.  They still do it, but we suspect it’s only for communications that are not time critical.  The important stuff is communicated directly from their ships by vox.  Encrypted, of course.  Their ciphers are sophisticated, and I’ve no doubt the tau think them to be unbreakable.”  She looked at him, a twinkle in her eye.  “But we’ve been doing this sort of thing for longer than they have.”  

“So you’ve broken their codes?"

“Some of them.  We can read approximately ten to fifteen percent of their transmissions.”

“Really?  That’s impressive.”  He regarded the huge machine.  “I’m surprised there isn’t a tech-priest here.”  

Eiseley grimaced.  “The station is short-handed in terms of the Mechanicus.  Frankly, it’s the fleet that gets all the attention. Intelligence hasn’t ranked very high on the list of priorities here.  Tech-priest Arnstadt comes by every few days to do the rites and make repairs.  Malley here,” she said, indicating the servitor, “handles most of the routine maintenance.”

The door opened, and a petty officer stepped in, holding a torn printout.  “Commander?” he asked.  

“A new intercept?” Eiseley asked.

“No, sir.  Some of our own message traffic.  But I thought you’d want to see it.”

“Very well,” she took the sheet from the petty officer, who then exited back out of the office.

“Was the name INDIGO intentional?” Kaeper wondered aloud.

“What?” Eiseley asked distractedly as she scanned the printout.

“The name INDIGO.  It’s ironic that the name of the cogitator that has broken the tau codes is the color of tau blood.  Was that intentional?”

“No, it was randomly selected,” she said with a shake of her head.  She looked up and handed him the printout.  “But this was.  It looks like someone tried to kill the tau ambassador.”


Kor’vre Ro’yen slipped underneath the broad wing of the Type 32 Heavy Attack Bomber, known to the gue’la as the Manta.  He slid his fingertips along the smooth surface and admired its lines.  Unlike its ground attack cousin, the Type 32 was not designed to carry troops and vehicles planetside, but was very much an anti-ship bomber.  This latest version of the craft had just entered service, and was beginning to be shipped to the various bomber squadrons throughout the Kor’vattra.  The previous version, the Type 31, looked essentially the same, but inside they were virtually different spacecraft.  The Type 32 boasted an entirely new avionics suite and upgraded electronic countermeasures.  The standard large bomb bay had been replaced with fuel storage.  The fuselage had been upgraded with a pair of recessed hardpoints to carry the new long range anti-ship missiles, which were far too large to carry internally.

Ro’yen had high hopes for the new missile.  Up to this point the bombers had to get very close to their targets before releasing their bombs, leaving them vulnerable to return fire.  With the anti-ship missiles, they would be able to launch from standoff ranges.  Each bomber could only carry two missiles, as opposed to the dozen bombs they normally carried, but Ro’yen deemed the trade off worth it.

“Good morning, Kor’vre.  Would you like to see the new missile?”  Ro’yen turned to see Fio’vre Run’tash, an earth caste engineer, hovering behind him.

“Yes, please,”  Ro’yen replied with anticipation.  Run’tash pointed down the hangar deck of the ship, and the two pushed off in that direction.  

“We received the shipment just a few hours ago, but haven’t had time to load any yet.  The drones are running systems diags on them now.”

Run’tash led him behind another Type 32 to a cargo pallet, where a pair of technical drones were working on four of the huge missiles.  One was scanning their engine sections, while another was accessing a maintenance panel with a small manipulator arm.  The missiles were anodized a matte dark grey, with a black awl-shaped nose, curving smoothly back onto the second stage that was two tor’leks in diameter.  The stage was perforated by a ring of dimples for its main attitude thrusters and several smaller ones for the vernier thrusters.  Almost twenty tor’leks from its nose, the fuselage flared into the first stage booster, which extended another ten tor’leks.  The missile was elegant in its simplicity, and reminded Ro’yen of a javelin--with a rocket attached.

“Very pretty.”

Fio’vre Run’tash smiled.  “The nose has a layer of passive sensors a few tor’milas thick.  It can detect optical, infrared, microwave, you name it.  If the target is emitting anything, intentionally or not, this will pick it up.”  He floated down the fuselage a few tor’leks.   “See this?” he said, indicating a circular panel the size of Ro’yen’s fist, labeled with a purple icon. “It’s an extendable sensor port.  Each missile has several of these for terminal guidance.  Depending on the mission, we can program the missile to target specific locations on a warship.  For example, the active sensors, weapon batteries, or engines.  Although, for most missions you probably just want to go for the ship’s reactors.  The penetrator should easily be able to punch in far enough to do some very serious damage.”  He emphasized the last three words.

“Really?”  Ro’yen was surprised.  The missile’s capabilities were much better than he had imagined.

“Yes.  It’s a cal’oi’sar kinetic penetrator,” Run’tash said, floating back to the nose.  “At burnout velocity, this,” he gave the fuselage behind the nose an affectionate pat, “should easily be able to penetrate the armored prow of an or’es’la warship--or a gue’la cruiser.  The delay-fuse warhead is only the two times the yield of the standard anti-ship bombs, but the missile’s penetration qualities more than make up for it.”  

“What about the range?”  

“Excellent.  The problem is more getting your launch vector correct at maximum range.  If the enemy isn’t using active sensors, there’s a good chance you can reach your launch point without being detected.  If the conditions are right, the first indication that an enemy fleet will get that it’s under attack is when the ships start exploding.”

“By the path...” Ro’yen murmured, his eyes wide.

Stay tuned for Part 2...