The following is Part 2 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.
ANACOSTIA IMPERIAL HOSPITAL
Por’el Nomu’a lay on his hospital bed propped up with bolsters, intensely uncomfortable. The room was lit artificially by an unhealthy, flickering orange-white light that attempted to match the natural light of the sun, but only succeeded at a pale, dim mockery of it. Tubes dispensing various fluids ran into his left arm. His right arm was encased in a splint from the elbow down. Sensors were attached to the skin on his legs and chest, the wires running from them to a monitor by his bedside. The monitor’s periodic high pitched beep initially had been novel, then hypnotic, then irritating. Every so often the itchy adhesive that held a sensor in place would wear out, the sensor would come loose, and the monitor would go off like an kor’var siren. There was also the monotonous tick of the antiquated chronometer on the wall, just enough out of sync with the monitor to make them both that much more annoying. Occasionally truly horrific smells would waft into the room. There were pict-recorders in every corner of the ceiling, keeping a constant watch on him. There were more in the washroom, studiously recording his every indignity.
A medical servitor leaned over him, very close. Nomu’a had never been this close to one before. It smelled alien and unfamiliar. The servitor stared unblinkingly at his face, never looking him in the eye. Its hands held a small metal tray, in which lay several dozen small, sharp bits of metal, glass, plastic, stone, and other materials. All were pieces of debris withdrawn from Nomu’a’s skin. The servitor had a pair of mechandendrites, metallic tube-like prostheses fitted at their ends with surgical tools. Each one moved about Nomu’a’s face and neck with forceps, clamping on to the tiny embedded shards and removing them. Nomu’a tried not to wince at every pinprick of pain, but even when he did, the servitor continued to work unperturbed.
There was a knock at the door, and it tentatively swung open. Adept Darius Carino’s head eased in cautiously, followed by the rest of him. His posture was timid, as if unsure as to how he would be received.
“Come in, Adept,” said Nomu’a, making an attempt at a friendly tone. The company of a human with a complete brain was infinitely preferable to his present situation. The lobotomised human continued its work.
“Por’el,” acknowledged Carino, closing the door. He stepped into the room, keeping at a respectful distance. He was clearly nervous. “I trust you are being treated well?” he asked.
“Well enough,” Nomu’a replied in a voice calculated to be neutral.
“Governor Siderone wishes to extend his deepest apologies for what happened yesterday. He asked me to tell you that he is doing everything possible to find those responsible and that he is taking a personal interest in the investigation.”
Nomu’a inclined his head in response.
“I also want to offer my own apology.” Carino looked down, unable to meet Nomu’a’s gaze. “I am appalled by what happened. I am deeply embarrassed. I want to express my deepest sympathies for the deaths of Por’ui Asal and Por’la U’sash. And for the injuries you suffered. I am...ashamed.” He looked quite miserable. The apology was clearly not rehearsed, and Nomu’a felt genuine affection for the old diplomat.
“You have nothing to apologize for, Adept. I know that you had nothing to do with this.” He adjusted his position in the bed. The servitor attending him froze in place, waiting for him to stop moving, then continued its work once he settled down. “Tell me, I saw during the attack that several civilians were injured. Do you have any word of their condition?”
Carino looked relieved that Nomu’a had changed the subject so quickly. “Two civilians were killed, and thirteen were wounded.”
Nomu’a took a breath. “It is categorically not the intention of the Empire to foment any discord between it and the people of the Imperium. I would like to extend the apologies of the Tau Empire to those injured, and the its condolences to the families of all the victims. I am not aware of your protocols in a situation such as this, but I would be willing to do this in person, or in any other form your government deems appropriate.” Carino was taken aback, clearly not expecting such an attitude from the tau ambassador.
At length he replied, “You do the Imperium honor with the nobility of your response.”
“The Tau Empire would be rash to believe that your government was behind an attack like this. We know that not all citizens of the Imperium look kindly upon the Tau Empire; it is part of our mission here to rectify this fact. A harsh response on our part to this act would not improve relations and would potentially incite more violence. We also know that your investigation will be thorough, and that your justice will be swift and decisive.”
“I can assure you of that, at least,” said Carino. “Is there anything I can do for you, Por’el?”
“I would like members of my embassy, Por’ui Iso’eld and Por’la Cha’tal’noi brought to me from the chancery. I would like to return to there as soon as possible, as I do not believe my medical condition requires that I remain here. I would like to be kept apprised of any and all developments in your investigation of the attack. I would like the remains of both Por’ui Asal and Por’la U’sash returned to the chancery, and arrangements made for their conveyance to our starship in orbit.”
“Of course,” replied Carino. “I’ll see to your requests personally.”
“One more thing,” said Nomu’a, his normally pleasant voice turning to steel. “Have the pict-recorders and any other such surveillance devices in here removed. Immediately.”
The conference chamber of the Ar’cha’elro, the high council of the Viridis Sept, was located near the top of one of the soaring towers in Al’usia, the sept’s capital city. Surrounded by offices and other conference rooms for the individual castes, the chamber sat in the core of the tower. The chamber was perfectly circular, with walls curving up from the floor to form an oblate spheroidal dome. The two central tables were shaped like arcs that together nearly completed an annulus. Seated at each table were six tau commanders, three from each caste. The earth and fire castes shared one table, the air and water castes the other. Between the two tables at one end of their arcs was a circular dais with an understated throne for the times when the sept’s ruling ethereal attended the council meetings. Today it sat unoccupied. At the other end was a lectern, behind which stood the Kor’vre giving the briefing to the assembled commanders. In the center of the darkened room, a holographic display illustrated her talking points.
“Two rotaa ago,” the Kor’vre began, “Il’Porrui Viridis Au’kunas Galeio, on a mission to transport the Anacostian ambassador to the Viridis Sept, disengaged its gravitic wing in the orbit of H’ar’n’lis in order to conduct routine navigational operations. Within minutes an unknown vessel was detected by the Au’kunas’ passive sensors, already within weapons range. The vessel was subsequently classified as a Nemesis-class destroyer, and approached the Au’kunas with an attack profile. The Au’kunas attempted to establish communications with the vessel, but was unsuccessful. The unknown vessel then locked onto the Au’kunas with fire control sensors. Kor’el Galeio ordered that the Au’kunas’ own active sensors be energized, and again the Au’kunas attempted to establish communications. Again it was unsuccessful. The Au’kunas then locked on to the unknown vessel with its fire control sensors. At this time the vessel opened fire.
“Au’kunas maneuvered and engaged the vessel with its railgun batteries. The hostile vessel sustained several hits, but damage is estimated to be minimal. Subsequent to being hit, the hostile vessel broke off its attack and egressed the battle area at high speed. The Au’kunas sustained minor damage in the exchange.”
“Casualties?” asked a Por’o, a water caste leader.
“The crew of the Au’kunas suffered two killed, six wounded, sir,” replied the Kor’vre. “Unfortunately, some of the damage done to it was very near to the passenger berths. Two members of the Anacostian ambassadorial staff were killed, and the ambassador’s wife was severely wounded. The ambassador himself was unharmed.” The water caste leader recoiled as if he’d been slapped. The other water and earth caste members of the council had similar, if more moderate reactions, but most of the air and fire caste members were unmoved.
“Has the hostile vessel been confirmed to be part of the Imperial Navy?” asked Fio’o Men’ro, one of the earth caste leaders.
“The vessel is definitely of gue’la origin, sir, but we have been unable to confirm that it belongs to the Imperial Navy. Former Navy vessels are known to be operated by independent traders. However, the Nemesis destroyer is a relatively new class of vessel, and thus this scenario is less likely. In our estimation, the vessel does belong to the Imperial Navy, but we cannot be certain of that at this time.”
“Did the Au’kunas track where the gue’la vessel was going?”
“The Au’kunas maintained the contact until it was lost behind H’ar’n’lis. The ultimate destination of the vessel is unknown.”
“Thank you, Kor’vre,” Kor’o Ar’eldi, the senior air caste leader, said at length.
The chamber was silent as the Kor’vre walked out, the door closing behind her.
“Even if the vessel was does belong to them, that does not mean that the vessel was operating under sanction of the Imperial Navy,” mused Fio’o Men’ro.
“But why attack at all?” asked a Por’o. “We’re in the process of trade negotiations.”
“The gue’la governmental system is fractured,” said another Por’o. “The wishes of one planetary governor does not necessarily correlate with the wishes of their navy. The chains of command are entirely independent.”
“It could have simply been a raider...” speculated Fio’o Y’caor, another earth caste leader.
“The same argument applies to raiders as it does to traders. The Nemesis-class is new, and thus the attacker was almost certainly part of their navy,” said a Kor’o, one of the air caste leaders.
“Very well, let’s assume it was their navy,” continued Y’caor. “What do they have to gain by attacking in such a manner? A destroyer-sized vessel is not a threat to a cruiser, and therefore the attack was doomed to failure. If their navy wanted to attack us, would they not do so in overwhelming force? Is that not how the gue’la behave?”
“A case of mistaken identity, then?” suggested a Por’o. “Perhaps they did not realize the Au’kunas was a vessel of the Tau Empire?”
“No. It seems clear to me that their intention was to provoke us somehow,” said the other Por’o. “I believe that the gue’la are sending us a message. Their navy is bellicose by nature, and therefore likely against our diplomatic mission. It’s probable they desire to anger us into breaking off relations. The Anacostian governor, on the other hand, has been slowly warming to our proposals. His reluctance to accept them outright is almost certainly due to the proximity of the gue’la battlefleet, rather than any personal reservations he may have. The attack could simply be the result of some kind of internal power struggle between the navy and the governor. The gue’la are not a subtle race. I’m convinced that this was a deliberate attack by the their navy.” There was a pause as the gathered leaders considered that.
At length the silence was broken by the senior member of the fire caste, Shas’o He’shi. “The vessel does not belong to the gue’la navy,” he said in a low voice. “It belongs to us.”
Stay tuned for Chapter Three...