E arlier this year, I put together a novel proposal for the Black Library’s open submission period. Per their requirements, I siphoned off a piece of my soul planning the entire story and writing the first three chapters. It was a fantastic first date. I wrapped my submission up and sent it off knowing this relationship was going to be ‘The One’. Unfortunately, just like any one-sided relationship, I possessed a completely different idea of what was going on between us since they never called me back. Therefore, I shall unleash my shame upon the entire Internet!
Behold! Chapter 2 of a rejected Tau Empire novel:
Art by FaceInTheSand
Vindicated – A Tau Empire Novel
Acario’s commission as Planetary Governor of Pangeus had been an unofficial exile from the Administratium of Terra. His ambition had clashed with the egos of his peers and had drawn the lines of political feuding. In the end, he was cast out from the inner circle and forced into the eastern fringe of the galaxy where he could no longer interfere. He vowed to one day return.
The beasts’ arrival was his opportunity. They skulked throughout the rest of the galaxy and were a growing threat to the Imperium. If he could stop them on Pangeus, he would have bargaining posture to trade information for power. However, the Administratium had not been receptive to his requests for military resources to accomplish this. Desperation grew inside him along with the ferocity of the beasts’ attacks. He feared an exile’s death.
Fate called out to him now that the xenos had subsided the beasts’ onslaught. He stood in one of the cramped comunicae rooms of the city’s meager administrative palace. He was hunched over gripping tightly to his staff for support. Age had twisted his face into a permanent scowl. Long, white hair dropped down behind his shoulders and a wiry beard protruded out from his chin and touched his chest. He adorned himself in the finest administrator robes he could obtain in this part of the galaxy.
An operator sat at a terminal working out the communication link. An astropath, trying to reach out through the Warp, was strapped prostrate along a table. Acario began speaking after the operator confirmed the open connection to Terra.
“This is Planetary Governor Acario. We have been successful in halting the advancement of the Tyranids that have taken root on Pangeus. We still require reinforcements as a new xeno threat faces us. The Tau Empire has deployed a hunter-cadre here under the pretense of aide, but I am certain they will try to annex us the moment we have finished crushing the Tyranids.
“I know Space Marine detachments are patrolling near this sector. Pangeus will be lost to the Imperium if we do not receive aide. I am formally requesting these resources as a Governor within the Administratium. The light of the Emperor will grow dark in this sector unless immediate action is taken. “
Dagon rushed through the crowded tunnels running below the city with his sniper rifle still strapped to his back. The tunnels wound below ground to a series of large caverns that had been recently converted to refugee camps. Filled with people and dwindling rations, they contained the remaining known population on Pangeus. Fear swarmed over the refugees as news of their salvation had not yet made its way down.
Dagon slid through the wall of bodies, unable to return any answers to their questioning eyes. Several meters behind him, a messenger who had followed him down began delivering the official news of the outcome of their battle. Everyone turned to hear the messenger as Dagon pushed past them, nearly shoving a few people to the floor in his desperation.
Finally he saw Kara sitting on a rock next to an underground waterfall spilling into a shallow pool. She locked eyes with him and time slowed. He took off his sniper rifle and utility harness allowing both to drop to the ground as he approached her side. She smiled as he wrapped his arms around her and pulled their lips together.
The crowds drifted away from them and gathered around the messenger. Kara pulled away and gently cupped Dagon’s face in her hands.
“I thought we were doomed, ” she said with tears tracing lines down her face.
“Apparently I was wrong this time, ” he replied as they both exchanged muted laughter.
“Did the Imperium answer our cries?”
“No. Xenos descended onto the battlefield and turned everything around. We are safe for now, but these xenos are not hear simply to help our cause. I fear they want our allegiance.”
“Where is the Imperium?”
“I have to be that voice.”
The cavern shook with the joyful cries of the crowds after hearing the messenger’s words.
A Tau fleet consisting of a dozen ships orbited Pangeus. Most of them were long range transports carrying full compliments of dropships and planetary strikecraft. A few bombardment vessels rode in low orbit with their cannons still trained on the planet’s surface. They glided above the surface like a school of ravenous sharks hunting their prey.
Above these orbited the Aun Utulus, a large, circular vessel that dwarfed even the largest transports. It bore the markings of the Ethereal caste, the ruling caste of the Tau Empire. Two security details of spear-like frigates stood sentinel above and below it. Four evenly spaced spires jutted upward along the edge of the hull. Each spire housed a series of plasma engines at its base that provided all the momentum the ship needed.
Por’ Ari’Tai waited in a broadcast chair aboard the Aun Utulus while a vox link was opened to the surface of Pangeus. Wide black eyes focused on the holoscreen before her. The sterile light of the room reflected dully off her pale-blue skin. A single braid of black hair dropped from the back of her otherwise bald head down to the floor. She wore the dark blue robes of the Water Caste, the diplomatic and administrative arm of the Tau Empire, the edges of which were trimmed with ancient wisdom passed down for generations and written in original Tau script.
Using the clumsy communication methods of the Imperium always encumbered her. Patience was her key when dealing with humans as their fear of technology forced them to use archaic communication methods. She had always privately wondered what they feared. Her entire function within the Greater Good would be diminished without constant technological advancement.
The room around her was filled with other Water Caste members broadcasting communications throughout the fleet. They relayed news reports, orders, and operating procedures to keep the fleet focused on the Greater Good. Ari’Tai drew her taught, pale-blue face into her best approximation of a human smile as the holoscreen wound to life.
“Pangeus is a beautiful world. We are grateful to share it with you during this critical time.”
“Your military presence was a welcome addition to our over-extended forces. I thank you on behalf of Pangeus, ” replied Acario in his scratchy voice. Static flickered through his image.
“We wish to catalyze its salvation with our military assistance. We have already offered what we believe to be a sign of good faith. If you allow, we would like to join you on the surface to see in what other areas you might require our assistance. We have with us a fleet equipped to fully rebuild your world. “
“I am grateful for your assistance, but any inter-planetary decision I make must be ratified by council vote. We will convene immediately to discuss this matter and consult with our personal advisers. ” He paused, narrowing his eyes. “I have received news that your military commander has already made contact with the Lord Commander. I trust you are not positioning a coup.”
“We would not insult the Imperium with such a crude gesture. We only wish to offer assistance here as a prelude to stronger diplomatic relations. The Tyranids seek to devour both of our empires. We must unite.”
“I will temporarily authorize you to send a single envoy until the council makes a final ruling on this matter. That is the most I am able to offer at this time. “
Ari Tai watched as he made the sign of the Aquila. She returned it and noted the surprise on his face. After he had severed their link, she tapped on the holoscreen and it dissipated.
“Their council is only their method of stalling the inevitable, ” said Por’ Gyme from behind her.
Ari’Tai spun around in her chair giving her full attention to her Pathos Guide. He wore robes similar to hers, but with the addition of metallic stripes at his collar. His splotchy skin showed his true age, but life still thrived within his mind. Many worlds had been brought into the Tau Empire due to his expert guidance. She was thankful to serve the Greater Good under such a prestigious mentor.
A group of young, apprenticed Water Caste members trailed behind him hanging on to his every word. She remembered following him from their perspective. It was like searching through the Knowledge Core and finding the exact slice of data you needed. In a galaxy populated with clashing ideals and technologies, drowning in the noise was too common. His experience gave force behind the oceans his apprentices swam in and guided them to the shores of effective diplomacy.
“I expect nothing less from them, ” she replied. “My words will bend their will into the Greater Good. Eventually they will abandon the Imperium just as it has abandoned them in these critical hours. “
“Never forget that the merits of the Greater Good must merely be revealed for someone to accept their truth. Pangeus is still full of Imperial citizens blinded by the light of their own emperor. Asking them to look away will be difficult, which is why I need you to lead the initial envoy to the surface. Exploit the shadows cast upon them from his light.”
“For the Greater Good, ” she whispered with a bowed head.
Acario stepped out of the communicae room and headed down the corridor toward the council chamber. The short walk was appalling. He remembered the winding labyrinths of the Administratium’s palaces on Terra. Throngs of people constantly filled their cavernous halls. Whenever a High Lord strode among them, they would make way with a reverent nod. He had thrived on bathing in their respect.
Pangeus’ population lost such traditions in favor of simple, rustic values. Now he had to fight to make it through the crowded hallways. He looked at the people he passed in the narrow corridor. Most of them did not even acknowledge him as they hurried by. Who did they think had the power to save their world? Without him the Tyranids would have already consumed them all.
He looked up at the twin doors to the council chamber. Only three meters high and devoid of inscriptions, they were a reminder of the haste with which the palace was built and forgotten. He even had to open the door himself, as most of the palace’s servitors had to be reassigned elsewhere.
The empty chamber was a modest space barely meeting the council’s needs. About 8 meters wide and 14 long, it held a long table chipped from years of use and a host of chairs gathered around it. He took his position at the head of the table and place his armful of parchments and battle reports before him. A pale light shined down from the ceiling, illuminating the room in a pale haze.
A few moments later, the doors creaked open, preceding the sounds of excited chatter. The rest of the planetary council filed in and took their places around the table. Even with everyone in attendance, it was only half full. Acario tried to neutralize their smiles with his scowl.
“Where is the Lord Commander?” asked Acario, getting directly to the business at hand.
“I believe he is with the xeno commander trying to fortify the city, my lord, ” said Gabe Poliz. His black hair and toned skin revealed his native heritage.
“I agree that the arrival of these xenos was fortuitous, but they oppose the Imperium and are thus equally as dangerous. We cannot leap blindly into an alliance. The costs must be weighed.”
“The costs have been weighed, ” replied Gabe as he looked around the room. “Earlier this very night, we all thought we were fighting a losing battle, but now we have hope. And since hope is all we have left, we should grip it tightly.”
“Where was the Imperium these past few weeks?” another voice added. It belonged to the oldest member of the council, Heregar who always insisted he be addressed by only one name. His dark, leathery head was completely shaven in support of some strange belief that no one could ever remember.
His wiry frame hardly seemed to support him as he stood up to continue addressing the council, “If the Imperium respected us, they would have sent more than a few young pups as rescue. Earlier tonight, I had accepted my fate and was sleeping soundly only to be shocked into consciousness by Gabe here saying something about xenos saving the city.
“None of us should be alive right now. Thus, we are dead…” Heregar let his voice trail off as he stared up at the lights, a wild spark forming in his eyes, “…and therefore, we should join these new xenos in a crusade against the insects. What do we have to fear now? The Emperor has forgotten us.”
The kernel of truth within his opinion resonated with Cali Jardus, who represented the planet’s agriculture guilds. She smiled slightly while nodding at him. She stood and motioned with her hands to quiet the rest of the murmuring council and nervously clasped her gloved hands together before speaking.
“It is dangerous to accuse the Emperor of abandonment. Without him we are lost and doomed to revert back to Old Night. What we have been given is a test of our own fortitude. Can we ally with these xenos, drive back the Tyranids, and still remain loyal to the Emperor through it all? That is the question we should internalize.
“To you I may appear to be a simple farmer, but it is our agriculture that forms the core on which all of Pangeus subsists on. We have forgotten that we ourselves subsist on the Imperium and the will of the Emperor. It was our abandonment of him that brought this plague to our planet. I have repented for my own personal abandonment, and you should do the same. “
“I am happy to see that the entire council has not lost their minds, ” Acario said after allowing a pregnant pause. “I am no fool. We must come to some treaty with the xenos, but as Jardus has implied, we cannot enter into any agreement lightly. I advise that we open diplomacy with them if only to stall long enough for our combined military strength to finish off the Tyranids.”
The chamber doors abruptly swung open and Galvin stormed into the room. All eyes snapped to him as he took an empty chair next to Heregar.
“Well, speak of the Nurgle, ” said Heregar.
Dagon sat pinned against the wall as his wife slept deeply with her head in his lap. He gently stroked her hair as exhaustion finally caught up to him. His entire body ached from pushing it for days without rest. The past month had felt like a constant battle. However, if war were easy, they would not need soldiers.
The cavern activity had died down as everyone drifted off into sleep without fear of attack. Their gentle, rhythmic breathing resembled the evening winds on Pangeus’ plains. He and his wife would often just lay underneath the purple sky with the winds lapping at their skin. He smiled at the recollection. Perhaps they would eventually return to the surface with such a carefree spirit.
Movement within the cavern instantly jolted him into the present. He watched a young, native teen crawl over the sleeping bodies heading in his direction. He released a frustrated sigh, knowing this was a messenger sent for him. He chuckled at the sight of the messenger stumbling along, accidentally waking up a few people.
Dagon looked up into his eyes as the teen delivered his message while fidgeting at his pant legs with his hands, “Sir, the Lord Commander requests your presence in the council chamber.”
Dagon looked back down at the beautiful creature laying at his feet in undisturbed peace.
“Thank you. I will join him soon, ” he replied with a whisper, waving him away.
When they were alone again, he bent down and kissed her forehead. He moved his hand to brush her face.
“Haven’t you done enough already?” She asked.
“Perhaps if I was as watchful as you, I would have.”
“Let them deal with this. The rank of ‘Lord Commander’ is not given to just anyone, ” she said while sitting upright. She snaked her hands around the back of his head. “I need you here. “
“If only it were that simple.”
“I have lived these past weeks in constant fear–fear of witnessing the death of my homeworld at the hands of these terrible creatures and fear of witnessing that death alone.” Tears arched down her face.
“I only leave you to quench the source of your fear. Trust in me. Trust in the Imperium. The Emperor lights our dark paths so that we can see there is nothing to fear but our own disillusionment. “
She laughed while drawing him into a parting kiss.
“Promise me you will work on your iterating skills after you have used your true talents to kill the beasts, ” she said while playfully slapping his cheek.
He helped ease her into a comfortable position on the padded mat she now occupied alone before standing up. He swiftly exited the room, silently snatching up his gear which had not been moved since he first came down into the caverns. Once in the hallway leading up to the city, he strapped his utility harness back on and pulled his full mask over his face.
Encased in black, he slid through the shadows of the city. IG soldiers patrolled the empty streets, watching for anyone breaking the curfew. He could tell from their vigilance that they had already quelled a few riots. No one wanted to stay down in the caverns when the city was effectively theirs again. Daylight would break in a few hours and release the eager mob to reclaim their city.
They ignorantly accepted the gift of life from the xenos with no attention to the cost. Whatever the council wanted with him was probably related to this. Pangeus had never tasted war before. They knew nothing of sacrifice or courage, only entitlement to their endangered land.
He had no misconceptions about Governor Acario, either. The condition of Pangeus was far from his mind as he plotted to regain his former position of High Lord. What prestigious member of the Administratium would ever seek out a rustic planet such as Pangeus to preside over? However, he was currently the planet’s governor, and as such wielded entirely too much power for an Imperial citizen.
“Governor Acario is simultaneously our key to life and imprisonment with these xenos, ” he whispered carelessly to the darkness.
“Is there more than the Hunt?” asked a deep, guttural voice.
Startled, Dagon drew out his laspistol and pressed himself against the side of the building to his immediate left. He was in an alleyway with an empty street before him. He had become sloppy during his time on Pangeus and should not have let down his guard enough to allow someone to surprise him.
“You are a warrior, yet you speak of politicians, ” said the voice, about three meters behind him. “Your politicians have left you defenseless and weak.”
Dagon turned to face the xeno voice. Only the dark alley lay before his searching eyes. A faint, red light floated where the voice should have been. The alley behind the light slowly writhed about like a conjured illusion.
“Show yourself! Only a xeno would hide from the Emperor behind such perverted technology.”
“It is our technology that has saved your world that your beloved Emperor allowed to become encumbered with political idealizing. It is they who are the true parasite here.”
“I am sure your politicians orbit us right now scheming how you will use us for your own advancement.”
“Scheming requires an initial trait of selfishness. I do not fight for myself. I fight for the Greater Good. Our politicians act on behalf of the Greater Good. Our functions differ greatly, but we both work to achieve the same purpose.
“Your politicians, however, work for themselves. Why do you fight, then? If it is not for them, then you both work against each other. Your division brought the beastial Gor’vie down upon you.”
“I fight for the Imperium, and defend the eternal light of the immortal Emperor, beloved by all!” He shouted into the night. Receiving no response, he was left alone with his thoughts. The red light had vanished. He continued toward his destination.
By the time he reached the council chamber, guilt pressed against his mind for leaving his wife’s side. With all his years of service to the Imperium, hadn’t he given enough to warrant a small reprieve? He doubted his abilities would even remain useful as Galvin should be handling the new military situation with the xenos.
He walked into the chamber. Worn expressions of debate stretched out across every face. Galvin, still adorned in his commander’s uniform, rose out of his chair and indicated he sit beside him. Instead, Dagon walked to the end of the table, crossed his arms, and cocked his head at Governor Acario. Silence filled the chamber.
“I appreciate your frankness, Dagon, ” remarked Acario. “We have brought you here at the request of Lord Commander Icross who has affirmed that we cannot save our world without the aid of these xenos. So, the council has allowed a interim treaty that will give the Lord Commander the power to converse with the xenos and formulate a combined military strategy to combat the Tyranids.
“You and he are to be a liaison for the council to the Tau military commander.” He looked over at Galvin. “Normally we would only require one military person to fulfill this role, but as the Lord Commander has stated, we are under a pressured timeframe and need the specialized guidance that you may be able to provide. Are you prepared to perform the duties asked of you by the Imperium?”
Dagon looked around the room. He did not have much of a choice as most of the looks cast his way were desperate pleas for salvation. None of them, save Acario’s, were forced. They all had built their lives here on Pangeus and needed to him to reclaim their future. At least in that sense, they fought for the same goals.
However, they still did not have the light of the Emperor illuminating their hearts. Their political idealizing had distracted them from the glory of the Imperium. That was how the Tyranids had been able to destroy them, through their own negligence to the Imperial Truth. The xeno was wrong.
“For the Emperor,” he said while looking into Acario’s veiled eyes.
The chamber emptied out quickly with everyone scurrying back to the caverns to get some sleep in the few remaining hours of the night. Galvin was the last to walk out with Acario. They exchanged a nod before diverting off to their respective places.
Acario headed directly for the communicae room to relay the council’s decision to the xenos. The room had been emptied after he sent out his long distance request to Terra. As with most things on Pangeus, he was forced to perform several menial tasks himself.
He brought the vox online and hailed the xenos orbiting above them. After a few beats, the xeno he knew as Ari’Tai appear on his screen. She wore the same forced smile as the first time he communicated with her. He could not overcome how strange it was that a narrow slit ran down her forehead where her nose should have been. He sighed in disgust before addressing her.
“The council has decided to provision an alliance between our military forces. Our Lord Commander will act as a liaison between the council and your military commander here on the ground. We are grateful for your aid. I apologize for the length of time taken to reach our decision, but the recent duress we have been under has rendered us distraught and receding to our safe, bureaucratic methods. “
“I will alert our commander to proceed with combined force protocol then. I am glad to be moving forward in our mutual relationship, ” she replied.
“As far as planetary diplomacy is concerned, I was not able to secure more than what I have already stated in our previous conversation. You are free to send a single envoy and must station it within an embassy we have set up here in the city. Once you are on the surface, we can commence deeper diplomatic discussions on the future of our two interests.
“I am uploading the landing coordinates to you as we speak. Our city has only a single point of landing, therefore I must have you escorted by a military detail from the landing site to your embassy. Do not take this as hostility, but rather as our way of protecting our limited assets. You must not over-step these boundaries or you will break the council’s trust.”
“I accept your provisional limits to our envoy. I will be personally leading it to the surface when dawn breaks over the city. I look forward to meeting you in person.”
“As do I, ” Acario said while making the sign of the Aquilia, which she again reciprocated.