The story of Jun'Yin and his team started here
Into the Void
His breath came in rapid gasps as he threw an overhead armature into the path behind him. The flickering emergency overheads made the floating corpses of the flight crew all the more ghastly. Tearing at his heels the creature of shadow and claw hisses and scrapped after him. His movements were of pure instinct, all logic flown.
Killing the gravity so far had been his only respite. Thruster jets on his suit slammed him from one claustrophobic wall of the orca's troop deck to the other causing the operative to click his teeth painfully. He did not notice as his pulse pistol flew up and let loose three flashes of plasma into the bulkhead. His gasping panicked breaths only punctuated his darting gaze as he searched the dim and flickering ruin of the orca's troop bay.
His display searched dutifully for bio-signs, but as a simple computer it had no understanding of the urgency. It was even so kind as to highlight the three dead tau floating amid the torn out conduits and overhead armatures. Their icons showed flat lined vitals and dutifully suggested the tau seek medical attention. The Shas'Vre could feel the creature's eyes on him, but the ruined conduits and rent open bulkheads made every piece of darkness seem alive.
His hand slapped onto the wall beside him and frantically searched blind, as the other brandished the pulse pistol before hit to stave off the beast. The console behind him chirped cheerily, oblivious to situation. The sound apparently drove the beast onward and it screeched from behind a ruined battlesuit mag-clamp, claws pulling the Y'he toward the tau like a bolt of lightning from the heavens. His thrusters again slammed the operative clear of the creature's charge, though it sent him hurdling through the lower deck and into a flickering display on the flight deck. Sparks sizzled in complaint as the powered armor crushed the interface. The display in the Tau's helmet burst with static briefly before the tactical overlays and blacksun filter died abruptly. The flickering flight deck and the ruined troop deck below went completely dark. Only the red glow of the emergency overheads have him a faint outline of shapes in the dark.
The Tau could feel his heart pounding, and his gasps made him feel as if he would never regain his breath. Frantically the armored shas righted himself an pushed off the dead display to the nearest crew seat. Globules of dark blood hung suspended around the ruined body of the flight crewman who had been manning the post. From his thigh the Shas'Vre drew the long ta'lissera blade he wore there. The knife that symbolized the bond of his team was not made for combat, but desperate times as they say. With blade in one hand and pistol in the other the tau readied his thrusters again. His eyes strained against the darkness to spot the bulbous head of the beast, but the flicker of the overheads made everything seem to be moving.
Startled he swung the weapon right, having sworn he saw be Y'he, but the flash of his muzzle revealed the creature scurrying low along the floor to his left, teeth gleaming, eyes as soulless as ever. The creature lept with a screech of victory even as the tau brought the bonding knife up and over in an attempt to skewer the beast by it's own weight. The bladed grasp of the creature closed first around the blade, snapping it like a twig in the wind. The Shas'Vre rolled away from the creature in a final act of defiance and he felt the drag of the beasts claws along his faceplate. Those claws could rend through armor if given the chance and the frantic tau knew it all too well. Sheer panic and dread coursed through the grizzled tau as he grappled the closest claws presented by the beast leaning back away from the snapping jaws. Smaller claws scrabbled across his abdomen, and he could feel the tug on the suit.
Both combatants were sent reeling as a angrily chirping disk buzzed into the space between them sending the beast hurdling into the open cockpit and leaving the tau disoriented and tumbling through the claustrophobic interior of his former drop ship. The shield drone chirped once before whirling toward the cockpit. Having lost his pistol in the struggle, with his display dead and his suit responding sluggishly, the Shas'Vre kicked off the ceiling toward the rear hatch. Quaking fingers traced over the console once again as the shrill chirp and the sound of rending machinery announced the demise of his final ally. The sound of scraping claws and hissing frustration bearing down on him made his heart race. His fingers clumsily missed the proper sequence and he started over even with the shrill squeal of the mag-clamp overhead being torn aside. With a faint chirp of acknowledgment the console shimmered green and the Shas spun, armored hands raised to meet the grasping claws of darkness that launched through the weightlessness at him.
Even as he did so the emergency charges on the hinges of the aft hatch detonated, and like a slug from a railgun both the hatch and the Shas were rocketed into the cold void. Behind him tumbled the wreckage of his flight crew, ruined equipment, and the thrashing bladed Y'he that had stalked him for so long. The exhausted tau tumbled into cold vacuum, the lifeless orca drifting away and taking it's horrors with it. His suit remained sealed it seemed, but it was highly damaged and possibly with failing power. Even as he considered this, breaths short, he felt consciousness slipping away from him. Oddly, his fading thoughts as darkness took him was of how much he could use a large dose of pech'caffe...Chapter 2
Merely DreamingA rotaa prior...
“How is she?”
The Shas'Vre knelt beside the slide out litter where ui'Fia'Shin ran scans over the half stripped ui'Kato'Lyn.
“Luckily it's only a concussion. The Y'he could have done far worse to her.”
The Shas'Vre set his helmet down on the deck of the orca troop bay and leaned in to examine his soldier's face. Somehow the Shas'Ui managed to look graceful even when unconscious. He shook the thoughts from his head, as well as the feelings they led to.
“She will make a full recovery?”
“That depends Shas'Vre, on the extent. I have given her something to reduce the swelling, but I am no Por. It would be best she were treated properly.”
“Unfortunately we are all we have out here Fia'Shin. I have faith in your abilities.”
He stood slowly, retrieving his helmet as he did so. The other operatives sat about the interior of the orca double checking equipment or simply sitting back and staring up at the bulkhead. The Shas'Vre moved to the center of the vessel to where the canister and it's containment unit sat, front and center. The weight of the canister was more than he expected as he lifted it for examination.
So much effort for so little of a thing.
His reverie was broken as the smart mouthed Shas'Ui chimed in.
“At least that Aun will have her prize right Jun'Yin?”
The relaxed and smug look the marksman had on his face conjured up annoyance in the Shas'Vre though he kept his composure.
“What was that Ka'Yaden?”
The amusement was obvious in the flare of the vertical slit in the Shas'Ui's face.
“Playing stupid isn't your strong point Jun, you are far too intelligent for it. It doesn't suit you at all.”
“Ka'Yaden I have no idea what...”
“Come on Shas'Vre, Ui'Endr'Sa decrypted the transmission before we even got to that forsaken rock.”
The Shas'Vre's eyes turned to the communications officer. She slid deeper into her seat responding to the accusation softly.
“Sorry Shas'Vre, Ka'Yaden and Del'Ru wouldn't leave it be.”
The square jawed heavy weapons specialist sat up to that, objecting in his usual gruff manner.
“Hardly, all Ka'Yaden did was insist it was beyond ui'Endr'Sa's abilities and she was more than pleased to prove the smug t'auk'cka wrong.”
Jin'Yun set the canister down.
Ka'Yaden however folded his arms.
“Relax Jun'Yin, we aren't going to go running off to the other Enclaves or anything, that is obviously why we are on this team to begin with.”
“It isn't a matter of that Ka'Yaden it's a...”
“I think we at least have the right to know what we are almost getting eaten for Shas'Vre, I mean...”
“Enough Shas'Ui, the questions you are asking are not good for your health.”
The slow and gravely words from Del'Ru surprised Jun'Yin even as they were spoken.
“Judging by how close Fia'Shin and I were to that Y'he today Shas'Vre, and with all respects, I cannot see how our questions could endanger us any further.”
The Shas'Vre sighed as even his medical officer chimed in.
“Judging from all the missions adding up to this one, what are we talking about here Jun'Yin? Gene splicing? Bio-weaponry? I know the Aun council was worried after Kel'Shan, but this is beyond...”
“Enough Shas. Enough questions.”
Jun'Yin held up his hand and wiped his face slowly to collect himself.
“There was no Aun in the Enclave, whatever transmission you thought you decrypted must have been mistaken...”
He could see the consternation in his team's face, and Ka'Yaden was on the verge of another insubordinate outburst.
“... BUT, assuming there was an Aun in the Enclave, and this Aun happened to send us on these missions through the Shas'O, I am only as informed as you are at this point.”
The discontent from that response was clear in Ka'Yaden's eyes, and the square faced Del'Ru merely sat back rubbing his chin. Endr'Sa, short even for a female, sank further into her seat, pulling her legs up and wrapping an arm around them as she set herself back into the on board computer and whatever work she had been dealing with prior to the confrontation. Fia'Shin scoffed slightly and moved over to Del'Ru.
“Alright grumpy your turn.”
The Shas'Vre merely stood and watched his team, aggravated at the entire situation. The Shas'O and his fio'sorral was incomprehensible to the Shas'Vre, and what he couldn't understand he couldn't make his team understand. Working in the dark like this made him uneasy.
Del'Ru growled as Fia'Shin helped pull down the combat suit he wore under his armor like the rest of them. Dark blood stained it and Fia'Shin paused to prod at the exposed shoulders of Del'Ru.
“Watch what you're doing Fia'Shin!” The weapons specialist growled with a hint of pain in his voice.
“Oh stop it you big saal, let me get a proper look at it.”
Jun'Yin couldn't help but glance at the wound. Veins traced his Shas'Ui's back like a mal'caor's web, and two barbs were buried in the tau's shoulder.
“Luckily you have a Fio's build Del'Ru, looks like the shoulder blade stopped them.”
The pain was evident in the tau's voice. “Very funny Fia'Shin... just get them out of me already!”
She set her kit on the seat beside him and readied an injection. “First thing is first, the Y'he poison.”
The Shas'Ui hissed in pain as she slowly applied the injection, watching the small light on the back of the applicator.
“The Y'he gene is a nasty thing isn't it Del'Ru. It fights to the last even in the blood.”
Her eyes looked up to meet the Shas'Vre's with intent.
“Fine! When we get back on board the cruiser and I am done dealing with Captain Hawkes, I will send to Shas'O Da'Korst and ask for more details. Happy? You guys are going to be the death of me!”
The amusement on Fia'Shin's face was unavoidable. “Tua'va Shas'vre.”Chapter 3
The Orca shuddered only slightly as it touched down on the gue'la flight deck. Mindful that all his shas wore their helmets to preserve the faceless mystery of their team to the superstitious humans, Jun'Yin pressed the rear door release. As the door that doubled as the landing ramp settled to the flight deck, it was clear the chaos of the world below was not yet over. The cries of the wounded and the yells of the medical teams assaulted the senses. One human stared absently at the dark ceiling as the servitor assistant to what passed as a medic in gue'la culture, took a spinning blade to his mutilated arm.
Behind the face plate the Shas'Vre huffed his distaste. Four of the team descended into the chaotic bustle of the 'rescue' leaving Fia'Shin to care for their wounded member. As they moved through the throng of wounded and rescuers alike, the gue'la gave them way. They boarded the lift just as fire servitors dredged by to extinguish one of the human aircraft that seemed to have barely made it back to the ship.
“It's a wonder they have held sway over so much of the galaxy for this long.” Ka'Yaden remarked with obvious disdain.
“Less enlightened beings could have taken sway. At least these ones are just organized enough to keep the galaxy sane until the Tua'Va sets it to peace.”
The younger Shas'Ui turned to look at his Shas'Vre.
“If this is what you consider sane Shas'Vre.”
Del'Ru's gravely chuckle was infectious. As the Shas'Ui laughed, Jun'Yin felt a wash of exhaustion flow through him. Only now after the return to the trader's cruiser, did the tension of the recent mission release. His team were all alive even after the human's reckless landing. This mission was a success, they were on their way to join their Shas'O and from there return to the Enclave.
Yet something tugged at the back of the Shas'Vre's mind.
“Alright Shas, tighten it up.”
The lift's door hissed open, and the four moved down the poorly lit central corridor that linked all the primary areas of the human vessel. Servitors slid up and down the corridor along side robed crew and maroon armored soldiers.
As one of the half machine, half human things slid by Jun'Yin could not help but feel a pang of pity for the creature. Unfocused eyes stared ahead as unseen mechanical limbs propelled it to it's next menial task.
“The gue'la lower caste is mindless then Shas'Vre?”
The question came over the internal comms of their helmets from Endr'Sa .
“Not exactly Shas'Ui, from what I gather they are lobotomized automatons. Sort of like a drone, but using the ruined mind of their lowest caste.”
“That... that's reprehensible.”
“I agree Shas'Ui, but we cannot change their entire society from here. That is for our Empire to accomplish. Let the Aun worry on them, you stay focused on your task at hand.”
“I understand Shas'Vre.”
The four stepped into the command deck of the cruiser to find Mr. Hawkes seeming exactly where Jun'Yin had left him. To the relief of the Shas'Vre he could make out the star charts projected from the captain's crude holoprojector.
“Gue'O, we have returned successful.”
“So I ma told Mr. Yin, sixty two survivors, and only three of my Valkyries were lost. All told we came out with thirty more people than we went in with. That is as much a victory as we could have hoped.”
“It pleases the Tau'Va to see you care so much for your people Gue'O.” The sarcasm was of course lost on the human, but his team exchanged glances.
“Of course, and from what I understand the mission was nearly lost without you and your team. Again Mr. Yin, this humble trader is in the debt of the Tau.”
“Doubly Gue'O, you still have yet to full fill your first one.”
The human laughed at that as a servitor slid up next to him to hand over what seemed to be a data pad.
“Not to worry Mr. Yin, the course is already found, and my astropath assures me we will make the rendezvous on time. Apparently the warp is calm today. Or as calm as such a thing can be.”
“No Y'he pursue?”
“The Space Marines seem to have drawn off most of the faster creatures and destroyed them before holding on the edge of the system to escort the Inquisition in. My girl here might not be pretty, but she is faster than those bloated hive ships. We shouldn't see any problems from them anytime soon.”
The Shas'Vre nods once, berating himself internally once more for the gesture.
The human captain afforded a glance up from his data pad.
“Unless there is more Mr. Yin I would advise you make yourself comfortable, we won't be meeting with your Shas'O for another day or so.”
“I am concerned with the lack of quarantine as we discussed earlier.”
“Other than the spores, the servitors didn't find anything abnormal in the survivors. Apparently the Marines were thorough when they received the refugees. I am having them relocated to more equipped medical bays by priority. Did you see something that concerned you specifically Mr. Yin?”
To the human's credit, the Shas'Vre could hear the sincerity in that final question. The man might be arrogant, but he was also cautious and willing to be corrected if it meant the safety of his crew and vessel. According to the man's tales he had gone through quite a lot to gain his vessel and title.
“Nothing specific Gue'O. I do however have one request.”
“What is it Mr. Yin?”
“My communication's specialist will need access to your arrays.”
The man laughed.
“Of course Mr. Yin, though without an astropath I wouldn't give your hopes up on your message getting there before we do.”
The man smirked and gave a dismissive wave of his hand. Apparently the small request was not worth it's asking, and the assurances of the Shas'Vre had put the matter of the refugees at ease in his mind. For a moment, Jun'Yin simply stood there not wanting to seem at the beck of the human captain. There was not any reason for him to remain however, and he looked to his team.
“Endr'Sa, try and boost your transmission through their arrays. If anything this will be a perfect chance to measure the travel and response times of gue'la communication against our own. Let's see if we can't beat ourselves to the rendezvous.”
His words were of course through internal comms, and the female Shas'Ui moved over to the communication consoles manned by the gue'la crew.
“Del'Ru, stay with Endr'Sa. We might have a deal, but I don't trust them enough to leave her here alone. I will return to the Orca to compose the message you all so desperately want me to send.”
Ka'Yaden snickered, though since it was through the comms it was entirely intentional.
“I have almost had enough of you Ui'Ka'Yaden.”
“Oh come on now Shas'Vre, we are all alive and on our way home. Lighten up. After all, you still owe me what... five lives?”
The two again found themselves walking down the poorly illuminated central corridor.
“How can you keep track of those Ka'Yaden? We are Fire Caste, it's part our daily life. Are you going to say all the other times I covered an angle for you don't count?”
“Of course they don't Shas'Vre, you didn't shoot a Y'he off my helmet did you?”
“So I have to actually stop someone in the middle of the act of killing you for it to count?”
“Well I would hope a bit before that Shas'Vre.”
“Well how far in advance are we considering now? And where is the line...”
Both Tau stopped at the end of the corridor. Before them stood the lift, door partially open. Wedged between the two heavy blast doors was a half mangled servitor. Gore decorated the internal walls of the lift...Chapter 4
The response from Endr'Sa was terse as the Shas'Vre immediately reported to Mr. Hawkes their discovery through his Shas. As a communications specialist she was versed in several languages, Imperial Gothic her primary realm of study.
“Shas'Vre, the Gue'o is initiating a ship wide lock down, and gue'la soldiers are starting sweeps.”
To the human's credit he responded swiftly without unnecessary questions. The Shas'Vre gave a glance to Ka'Yaden who was crouched and examining the mutilated servitor.
“I don't know Jun'Yin, looks like someone ripped this creature up the middle...”
“Either that or a very ornery gue'la. I don't see how a gue'la could have done it quickly enough to have avoided detection by the soldiers.”
The Shas'Ui motions to the two gue'la soldiers standing pensively beside the Shas'Vre. Jun'Yin turns to the two.
“You saw nothing?”
The soldiers gaped a bit and glanced at each other before the burly one of the right spoke up.
“We saw a gout o' blood is all. Who... or whatever it was tore the blimey fool a new un' and was gone in the same motion.”
The Shas'Vre looks back to Ka'Yaden who merely gave a open handed shrug in response.
“We have to assume the ship has been compromised. I knew the quarantine was lifted too soon.”
“Oi, the Space Marines checked the refugees out, and so did the docs. Can't 'ave been the refugees.”
“Well either your marines were less thorough than you think, we have a stow away from one of the transports, or you have an extremely violent and rogue crew member... which do you think is most likely gue'la?”
The two soldiers gave worried looks between each other.
“First thing's first Mr. uh... Tau. We need to sweep the main corridor...” The soldier points down the long poorly lit corridor that ran the length of the ship, “... it controls all the access points along this ol' girl.”
The Gue'la was right, at least the crew knew their own ship. Drawing his pulse pistol from his thigh, the Shas'Vre motioned the humans ahead. With a thought the black sun filter on his display blinked the corridor into relief. Several more servitors milled about down the halls, and he could make out half a dozen blast doors leading off the main corridor. The heads up display reassured him of all his team's vital signs, however the heavy and crude bulk heads of the rogue trader's vessel was playing havoc with the locating software and signal. He could tell Endr'Sa and Del'Ru were both calm and operational, but no icons were present to direct him towards them or any other team member aside Ka'Yaden to his rear. The lack of contact made him feel blind and uneasy.
“Kau'da come in.” The Shas'Vre continued following the gue'la security soldiers down the hall, scanning the recessed that dotted the gothic interior of the vessel, as he called up the orca crew.
“Tua'Va Shas'Vre, we are listening.”
“Seal up the ship and set the kor'vesa to watch outside. You and Fia'Shin are to remain inside until further notice.”
The professional response of the Kor'Ui pilot set his mind at ease a bit.
The two tau and their gue'la comrades paused outside a side blast door. The blood marks along the floor and door were unmistakable even to the humans without any black sun filters. The two humans exchanged grim glances and one flicked on an illumination device of some kind attached to his primitive rifle. Both knelt and examined the scene as the two Tau turned to scan the corridor.
“Blood mess eh Kev?”
“No doubt, looks like they slipped through here before the lock down finished up.”
“How in the Emperor's Name did it... they... slip right past us? This has got to be what...”
“Lucky it just slipped by, coulda been worse.”
“Blood warp it coulda been.”
The Shas'Vre turned back to them.
“What is through this door then gue'la?”
Both the humans gaped and one hurried to the control panel. A series of rejecting tones made the gue'la curse and take the butt of his rifle to small console in the wall.
“Warp be damned lock down 'as the thing sealed up tight...”
The other soldier produced one of the human communicators and was trying to raise the bridge. The Tau sighed.
“Ui'Endr'Sa, the gue'la have tracked the intruder to a cross way about... two devilfish distant from the lift. Port side of the vessel.”
The response was delayed slightly, obviously the Shas'Ui had to communicate with the Gue'O before responding.
“Shas'Vre, the Gue'O says a good portion of the refugees were sent there. Seems like a resident wing for the crews and guests. The lock down sealed all the blast doors, he is working on getting that one unlocked.”
Jun'Yin turns to the gue'la.
“Calm yourselves, the Gue'O Hawkes will open the way.”
The two exchanged glances and stepped back from the door lifting rifles and the illuminating devices with them. The blast door gave an audible ground and then a slight grating sound as it shifted and began sliding open. The beams of light cut into the darkness beyond and pinned another ruined servitor in their light.
“Blood thing ain' like 'em servitors does it?”
The other soldier gave a slap across the helmet of the gue'la who spoke.
“Shut it Kev, ain' time for jokes.”
The two glanced at the pair of tau behind them before sweeping the beam lights around the short corridor again. Several meters in it made a sharp turn from which a flickering of ruined lighting systems struggled to return to function.
“Oi, why not let tha xenos go first eh?”
“Blood good idea Kev.”
The two look back to the Shas'Vre and his partner.
“You got yer fancy armor roight? Best you lead tha way I feel.”
Shaking his head, the shas'vre shoved the closest man aside, pulse pistol leading the way. His display and his instinct assured him Ka'Yaden was at his back. The sweeping lights of the gue'la illuminators interfered slightly with the black sun filter causing patches of his display to flicker. The unrefined technology of these aliens made the Shas'Vre cringe slightly in annoyance.
Both tau pause at the corner long enough to initiate their stealth fields. The frightened chortle of the two gue'la behind him gave Jun'Yin some satisfaction. Let them feel alone, besides, the two tau operatives would have better luck discovering the intruder if they went unseen.
In one swift motion the Shas'Vre rounded the corner, pistol snapping up. Down the dark corridor only flickering or ruined lights seemed to remain. Scattered here and there were a handful of mutilated servitors. Whatever had done this had moved fast and brutal... yet had not tripped any of the security or alerted anyone to it's passing. The tau noted the systematic destruction of the already poor gue'la lights. This thing... or person, the tau reminded himself, was smart enough to work the environment to it's favor.
The corridor ended in several doors leading off the side corridor, one was still half ajar. Unlike the blast doors in the main corridors, these seemed to open inward and have far less secured access controls. Merely two inputs and a push would have a resident in and out of their home. Stepping to the thresh hold Jun'Yin set a hand to the door, which was also stained in gue'la blood. With a glance to Ka'Yaden who nodded in silent readiness, the Shas'Vre threw open the door bringing his pistol in line.
Despite his experience with some of the galaxies strangest creatures and places... the veteran Shas started and stopped, transfixed in the door way. Were it not for the light bending technology of his stealth suit, he would have been immediately spotted. In the room, which was a long bay filled with bunks, were dozens of figures. Swelled in several places from cysts, the unnatural look of these gue'la made Jun'Yin's spine crawl. The sound of the opening door had drawn all eyes, all of those soulless glassy eyes. Amid it's new found children lurked the creature of blade and shadow.
All the Shas'Vre could do was set a hand to Ka'Yaden's chest and shove him back out of the bunk room with a single strained shout over the helmet comms.
“Run Shas'Ui!”Chapter 5
The lights of the gue'la soldiers made their stealth fields flicker slightly as they rounded the bend.
"Endr'Sa! We need this bulkhead sealed now!"
The two tau operatives sprinted the final distance to the bulkhead door knocking the two gue'la soldiers off their feet. Twisting about both unleashed a fusillade of charged rounds into the doorway as the blast door grumbled slowly into place. Recovering themselves the two humans added their own blasts of energy into the darkness, one giving a terrified yell that ended only when the magazine ran dry and the smoking blast door was all that remained before the four.
"What in bloody 'ells were we shootin' at?!" The senior gue'la growled as he traded the depleted magazine for a new one.
"We may not have been pursued Gue'la, but it's best nothing from beyond slipped through as it closed." The reply from Jun'Yin was terse.
"Shas'Vre, the Gue'O -demands- an update. Internal systems picked up weapons fire."
"Inform the Gue'O that there is Y'he aboard the vessel. The port side quarter's wing is infected. At least one 'gene-stealer' Endr'Sa."
"Tau'Va..." Her response was almost a whisper.
The Shas'Vre turned his attention to the gue'la with him.
"This lock down, how secure is that wing?"
"Sealed 'n tight mate. Nothing but servitor access and living quartas back there."
"Your servitor's access is locked down as well I imagine?"
"Roight as rain tau. Unless the buggers can eat through bulkheads they ain't gettin out of there anytime soon."
For a moment relief flooded the Shas'Vre.
"Shas'Vre, we have a problem." The voice of Endr'Sa ended that respite.
"Go ahead Shas'Ui."
"According to the Gue'O, this vessel was not always the most legitimate trading vessel it is today..." The sarcasm was undercut with a hint of dread in the Shas'Ui's voice. "There are access tunnels under the living quarter decks that link the cargo bays. Smuggler's compartments he says."
"Tell me these compartments are under lock down as well Shas'Ui."
"Negative Shas'Vre. The Gue'O says they are well concealed, and likely will go unnoticed. He is scrambling sectional security teams to cover them anyways."
With a pause the Shas'Vre looks to the Gue'la soldiers with him in the corridor.
"Endr'Sa, go over the security records in the hanger just following the landing. Let's find out how many we are dealing with."
The blinking icon on his heads up display reminded him to change out the charge on his own pistol. His vitals were slowly returning to normal, as were Ka'Yaden's.
"Come gue'la, we need to head for our vessel. Your Gue'O told me we would be in the 'warp' for a day at least. We are going to need more than handguns to sweep your vessel clean."
The four hurried to the lift and called it. The panel lit up red and informed them the lift was under lock down. A moment conversation with Endr'Sa got the lift moving. As the door slid away and they stepped into the hanger, it was immediately clear something was wrong. The entire hanger was silent save a single servitor dutifully removing a human corpse from the flight lines. The red glow of the lock down cast the entire hanger in a shadowy gloom.
"Warp spawn..." The curse was breathless from the human named Kev.
All four lifted their weapons and moved slowly. This time the Shas'Vre bade the humans to keep their lights off so as not to draw attention. The Orca still stood sleek and resolute amid the angular gue'la gunships.
"Kau'da come in." The Shas'Vre waited anxiously for a response. The thin slit of the cockpit was dark, and he didn't see any kor'vesa in the hanger.
Crouching behind the last valkyrie between themselves and the orca the one called Kev bade them stop.
"Doesn't look good mate. Drem and I will cover you from 'ere aye? Use yer fancy suits ta git to yer ship."
The two soldiers didn't wait for a response. They set themselves into the back of the valkyrie and sealed the door. The Shas'Vre paused only long enough to give Ka'Yaden a glance. With a thought the stealth fields rippled into existence and the two tau advanced alone toward their darkened drop ship. As they stepped over fueling lines, they noted the blood on the floor. A quick inspection noted it as gue'la blood. The stuff was everywhere. The flight crews, soldiers, and refugees who had been in the hanger were no where to be seen save the corpse being taken away by the lone surviving servitor.
Though the crossing was not even the length of an orca, each breathless step seemed to echo in the tau's mind. Finally the tau crouched at the rear access ramp. The icons representing Fia'Shin and Kato'Lyn gave no indication of their location, however their vitals remained as he had left them. Jun'Yin tried once more.
"Kau'da come in. Answer me."
He shook his head, and looked to Ka'Yaden. The shas'ui nodded once and began entering the override codes to open the hatch. Jun'Yin stepped away and leveled his pistol, who knows what scene would greet them inside.
The hatch hissed once in protest, then lowered with the quiet whirl of tau engineering. Both operatives backed away and waited pensively, pistols leveled. The Shas'Vre's heart froze in his throat.Chapter 6
Fog of War
The Shas'Vre let out his breath in part relief, part exasperation. Other than the cool lighting slowly coming online to greet the tau as they stepped up into the orca, the bay was motionless.
"They aren't here."
Ka'Yaden's comment was an obvious fact, but still it voiced both their thoughts and their worries at once.
"It seems they left in a hurry."
The racks on the walls remained open with some gear spilling out onto the flight deck. His team would never leave their equipment in such disarray unless in an emergency.
"We can assume they moved when the Y'he were in the hanger. Seems they took the flight crew with them."
Jun'Yin activated the internal security monitors after moving to the consoles on the flight deck, as the Shas'Ui behind him drew out carbines from the lockers and collected magazines.
"Couldn't have gone far with Kato'Lyn. Could they?"
The ill ease in his Shas'Ui was obvious, even without the bio signs on his heads up display.
"They would not have left the orca without reason Ka'Yaden. Let's see what we have."
The screen flickered to life with images of the orca's interior. As they watched the two fire caste flight crew armed themselves and also passed a weapon to the tall and willowy pilot. Fia'Shin finished readying the grav stretcher with their incapacitated team member secured to the top of it. Two kor'vesa hung dutifully beside the tau in the footage. In the footage the ramp descended, followed by the flight crew and the kor'vesa opening fire. After a moment or two of pulse fire, the entire group made a swift exit. One of the flight crew was mindful enough to hit the lock down on his way out.
"Doesn't give us any clue as to where they would have headed. However they took ui'Kato'Lyn with them as well as the flight crew."
Jun'Yin gave a nod to Ka'Yaden as he accepted the loaded and charged pulse carbine.
"Endr'Sa, come in."
The Shas'Vre waited a moment.
"Endr'Sa can you read?"
For a moment the Shas'Vre worried for Del'Ru and Endr'Sa on the bridge.
"Sha... Can't... bulkh... signal." The interference frustrated the operative.
"Come Ka'Yaden. I don't know where Fia'Shin went with the flight crew, but Endr'Sa is our best bet in finding out."
The two operatives paused at the bottom of the ramp to seal the hatch again and double check their carbines.
"It's best we collect the two..." His words were cut off by an eiree high wail that peeled from the back of the hanger near the service equipment.
From the shadows there moved hunched and misshapen figures of torn flesh and sprouting blades. A dozen or more lit up across the Shas'Vre's heads up. The flicker of the overhead lighting only masked the creatures enough to ensure the imagination could fill in all the terrible gaps in their description. Both operatives stepped back toward the lifts, carbines lifting. Before the tau could open fire however, the hissing and scuttling of the approaching Y'he was broken by the loud report of heavy bolter fire. Both tau reacted instinctively, diving for cover in the refueling tubes and equipment around them. The advance of the creatures ceased immediately and the ones that had survived the initial burst of automatic fire scuttled back into the shadows of equipment and vents.
"Oi! Tau! Best we git gone from 'ere now while they're scared!"
The Shas'Vre had nearly forgotten the two gue'la. From the door of the valkyrie they had slid into, both peered out. One grinning like a fool, hands closed around the door gun of the assault carrier. The barrel still smoking slightly.
Both tau operatives moved with haste for the lift. No sooner had it arrived and the door hissed open did the two gue'la come running to meet it. The wail rose up again, and from every shadow filled corner flesh and blades seemed to spawn from nothing.
Pulse fire and las fire lit the hanger as they four waited on the lift to close at it's leasurely pace. The final ghastly cry from the hanger as the door closed was one that seemed of frustration.
"Seems they ain't too fond o' us slammin the doors in their face every time aye?"
The fool's grin brought one to the Shas'Vre's face as well, despite the circumstances. Maybe he liked this 'Kev'. As much as the Gue'Ui down on the planet's surface at least. With that thought the tau operative gave the gue'la a side long look.
"...heads interfe... wit... communications. Come in Shas'Vre."
The grating interferance cleared as they arrived on the primary access corridor once more.
"Go ahead Endr'Sa, I can read you clear."
"Thank the Aun. We have more problems Shas'Vre."
"I assumed as much."
"Apparently Fia'Shin had to move Kato'Lyn for medical reasons to the medical bays. Worse the quarantine squads are disappearing seemingly at random."
"They are lost. Which way to the medical bays? I want to start linking the team and bring us all back to the orca for extraction."
"Shas'Vre, the Gue'O says you must head for engineering. Apparently the gue'la are attempting to bring us out of warp space, but something is interfering with engine controls."
The Shas'Vre growled in frustration.
"Their astro walker or whatever, claims the power required to make the transition is too far gone unless we can stabilize the reactor."
A sigh of anger and frustration punctuated Jun'Yin's mood.
"Alright Endr'Sa. How do we get there..."Chapter 7
The heat was nearly unbearable for the two gue'la as they descended the service tunnel toward what they assured would be the vessel's core. Fortunately for the tau operatives the sealed suits provided them with comfortable enough conditions. The fellow who called himself Kev led the way, a white-knuckled grip on his pulse carbine. Lending him the tau weapon was the only way Ka'Yaden could coax him into guiding them to the core instead of escaping to the bridge and leaving the tau on their own. Unfortunately the Shas did not know the layout of the ship.
The entire trek had gone by so smoothly thus far that Jun'Yin's nerves were slightly frayed. They had been in the service tunnels for more than twenty gue'la minutes and they hadn't met any of the quarantine teams or bladed monstrosities. The only evidence something was wrong was the mutilated servitors they would pass here and there.
As they rounded the final dark bulkhead, the yellow and black striped service door stood before them only a few paces down the hall.
"Ok now Tau, that service hatch opens into the lower deck of the power core. Sorta like a trench surrounding by the main deck's catwalk. Hangin in tha middle of the room is tha core itself. Don't ask me how it works cause I just work here."
With a step forward, the Shas'Vre examined the hatch. With the stealth suits on the two operatives would have to stoop slightly and quick egress would not be easy.
"And the main exits out of the core?"
"Oi, they are locked down due to tha quarintine. This is tha only way in or out for the likes of us right now."
A quick signal to Ka'Yaden brought the Shas'Ui up beside him. No count was needed, they both knew what to do, as the Shas'Vre threw the hatch release and the metal hinged inward with a low grumble. First through was the Shas'Ui, pulse carbine leading.
"Guard this exit Gue'la, ensure it remains clear for our egress if need be."
"You got it Tau."
With a nod, which he immediately chided himself for, the shas'vre stooped low to enter the chamber behind Ka'Yaden.
For a moment they both remained silent. The heads up display in his suit highlighted half a dozen mutated creatures perched on the circular bulkheads of the room. Around them and across the machinery was an organic mucous material that reminded the tau of the beast they had collected their sample from seemingly so long ago. In the center of the room throbbing gently, was a glowing cylindrical device of archaic design braced to the surrounding bulkheads by plasteel beams. The readout on his helmet gauged the power output, and noted a slow build up of pressures in the core.
"We wait much longer and that device will take care of all of us at once."
"Talk about going out with a bang Shas'Vre..."
"Alright, slow and steady, I want a perimeter sweep to get a final count of our hosts, then meet at the central console there."
A yellow diamond flickered to life in the heads up display as the shas'vre marked console.
With that both operatives split to walk the lower trench around the base of the core. If there was anything Jun'Yin hated more than Yhe, it was surprises.
About a quarter around his side of the core, another red outline picked up a creature not a carbine's length above his head. At least he could examine it more closely. From what he could make out through the thin layer of chitin that was forming a cocoon analog, the creature had once been a gue'la. It was however mutating at an alarming rate. As he stood there watching for even only a moment, the creature's claws grew nearly double it's original length. Could the creatures be manipulating the energies of the human device to accelerate their mutations? A glance to the core noted Ka'Yaden already ascending a ladder to meet at the console. A glance back to the cocooned gue'la showed elongating of the lower mandible and teeth. These Yhe were dangerous in more ways than the tau could fathom. With things like these in the galaxy, wars with the other races seemed so trivial...
"I am coming."
It only took a moment to climb the ladder and step up to the console. With a disgusted snort the shas'vre slid a ruined servitor off the console. Across it scrolled faint green imperial gothic on a flickering screen.
"Seems the Gue'O was right. The Core's energy output was sealed off and it's just building like a furnace in here."
With a few touch of keys and a slow twist of the release valve, an audible hiss rose from the core as it vented heat and energy out into other systems. Following closely was the organic sucking sound that announced the awakening of their so far amiable hosts. Three of the nine cocooned creatures were tearing out of their pods, soulless black eyes searching. A thought brought the stealth fields of their suits online, and both tau flickered out of visual existence before the beasts could spot them.
Even as both tau took a step toward the access hatch where the two gue'la waited, the whole deck under their feet lurched. That was quickly followed by a tormented shriek from the things on the walls as the rest began to squirm and push toward open air.
A hurried few steps, and short drop, and a stoop had both operatives out of the core room and into the access panel. Both gue'la clutched their weapons and peered into the dim light of the core room even after the tau had joined them. Kev visibly startled when the access panel lifted on it's own accord and sealed the bulkhead in front of him. Only the flicker of the stealth fields deactivating calmed his nerves.
"Let's hope that worked." The Shas'Vre growled.
"Oh it worked Tau, that jerking feeling, that was us exiting tha warp. Seems the cappn wasted no time eh?"
"Best news we have had all rotaa."
"Ye ain't kidding. Let's head to tha bridge aye? Cappn's bound ta organize tha retake of the ship or tha evacuation from there."
"I intend to head for your med bays gue'la."
"Suit yerself Tau. I'll point ya to tha hatch ya need to take as we pass it. It's on tha way back to the bridge anyhow."
"Hurry then... Kev. I have men in those bays."
"Oi, not like to still have them now... but ye can still try."
The worst part in the Shas'Vre's mind... was that the human was most likely right.Chapter 8
The eerie silence of the ship was starting to make all four of them jumpy. Every flickering light rose their heart rates, every sigh of a vent made weapons snap up in response. It seemed to the two tau and their human guides as if the entire crew had upped and vanished. They hadn't even seen a slaughtered servitor since the one in the core room. No bladed creatures attacked them as they made their way. It was a ghost ship, and they the last survivors.
Kev motioned to one of the bulkhead doors and the two tau operatives took up flanking positions as he hit the console. In one motion the two tau swept into the next hallway weapons leading even before the door had settled open. Other than a flickering overhead the next corridor was silent as the grave. A blood stain darkened the left side wall but other than that... nothing.
"Bloody creepy eh?" The human gave a heavy fist onto the door control and it hissed shut obediently.
"Where are all the blighters eh?" Kev's companion voiced what they were all thinking.
When he had boarded the vessel for the first time, the Gue'O had been prideful of his several hundred soul crew. He had boasted of the core of former imperial storm troopers he kept under his payroll, and noted that he had acquired half of his servitors from the Mechanicus on Mars itself. Jun'Yin had no idea what Mars was, but the way the man had said it made it seem grandiose. Thinking about it though, everything the Gue'O Hawkes said seemed larger than life. Maybe the crew wasn't so numerous as he had lead them to believe? Maybe they had killed most of the things?
He shook his head to clear his thoughts. No. The creatures were up to something, and that did not bode well for his team or what was left of the humans.
The human pointed down the corridor, as if that wasn't obvious.
"Oi, down the corridor, second left. You will see a red line painted on yer right hand bulkhead, follow it directly to the med bays."
"I assume that means you are done leading the way?"
"Roight as rain. Throne knows I should have turned back already."
"Won't need that anymore then." Ka'Yaden sneered as he snatched the carbine away from the human before he could protest.
For an adult, Kev pouted well.
"Dinne even get ta shoot the damn thing. Hopefully we'll have the same luck with these eh?" He unslung his lasgun with a smirk and gave a cuff on the side of his companion's helmet.
"Lets go eh? Tha Tau have some hide 'n seek ta do. Best git back ta old Hawkes."
The two operatives watched as the humans turned on their illuminators and stepped through a door directly to their right. Just before closing the door the gue'la smiled and gave Jun'Yin a wink.
"You have fun now eh Tau?" With that the door hissed shut.
"Good riddance." The grudging tone in Ka'Yaden's comms gave Jun'Yin pause.
"You like those two aliens don't you?"
"What? At least they smile sometimes unlike a shas'vre I know."
Both operatives double checked their carbines and noted the charge.
The corridor branched just as promised by the gue'la, and the red line painted on the right wall even had 'Med Bay 1' stenciled in imperial gothic every few meters. Both operatives went as silently as possible, carbines shouldered. Jun'Yin mentally re-routed more power from his suit's jump jets to the on board targeting and awareness suite. Even so, the high tech electronics noted nothing moving or hidden in the recessed ahead. When they rounded the final bend, their vitals spiked on his HUD. Sprawled across the deck and wedged in the door were half a dozen corpses. Elongated teeth and claws identified them well enough, but both tau were drawn to the plasma burns on the walls.
Ka'Yaden covered the door as the Shas'Vre knelt to examine the corpses. Clean kills to be sure, with plasma wounds to the torso and head.
"Pulse weaponry did this work."
"Likely. She had the flight crew with her as well, though I would not credit them with this sort of aim. Even if they were pathfinder trained."
The Shas'Vre stood and moved to the half closed door. With the difference in lighting from the hallway to the darkness of the med bay, his blacksun filter was having trouble piercing the gloom.
"All the lights are out within. Drop the lights out here."
The Shas'Ui nodded, and with a few quick shots from the two tau, the nearest overhead lights were snuffed by pulse fire. As the darkness settled in the corridor and his blacksun filter adjusted, the scene through the cracked door sharpened. There were bodies inside as well, and plasma burns to punctuate the image.
"Looks like a hell of a stand..." Ka'Yaden's voice cracked slightly and his carbine drooped.
"Focus Shas'Ui, get the door opened. Maybe Fia'Shin left us a clue." He had to believe his team had made it out of this situation. If he gave up hope, how was he supposed to ease his Shas'Ui's fears?
A few moments of coaxing the door's controls to accept that it was shut, allowed the mechanism's opening sequence to initialize. With a moist biological sound the door slid open, leaving a ruined trail of gore in it's wake from a bladed corpse. The med bay would have been a clean bay of medical and surgical beds with a low ceiling, but the battle that had gone on inside had turned it into a metal and gore apocalypse. What seemed to have been desks and medical machinery were piled into a barricade just inside the door, but a particularly large and bulbous Yhe monstrosity lay in a ruin at it's center. Apparently it had broken through the barricade only to be peppered with plasma and lasgun fire. The gap had been all the smaller critters had needed and their corpses, along with a dozen or more gue'la bodies cluttered the floor.
Jun'Yin moved over to Ka'Yaden's side. The human... or mutating human... had been strapped down to the surgical bed. Whatever the gue'la had been doing ended with a clean plasma burn through the front of it's head. Stepping to the next bay it was the same.
"Fia'Shin's work no doubt. She must have realized they were mutating. Looks like executions."
"The gue'la medical staff had no idea, seems like they were trying to treat them for Yhe spores."
"But where is Fia'Shin and the flight crew?"
"Split up and search. Maybe we can find some clues, or at the very least a... a body."
Both operatives paused a moment to glance at one another. The search was quick, and other than executed patients and ruined medical staff Jun'Yin found no trace of Tau.
"Shas'Vre... I found someone."
Jun'Yin's heart froze and his veins went suddenly ice cold. He hurried over to where his shas knelt.
The male shas'ui had been one of the flight crew he knew immediately. He remembered the tau opening the flight ramp as they circled that hellish landing zone seemingly so long ago. Despite the carapace breast plate, the tau had been rent open from abdomen to collar, his blood was a dark spray on the wall behind.
"He has no charges or equipment. Someone salvaged all his gear." Ka'Yaden's voice seemed hopeful.
"That means the other tau made it out of this death trap."
He paused to scan the scene once more tapping the smooth faceplate of his suit absently. With an injured member who was unconscious last he knew, and the willowy air caste with her, Fia'Shin was not combat effective. She would know that, so where would she go?
"Shas'Vre, this is Ui'Endr'Sa." The crackle filled audio played from overhead speakers.
"I can hear you Shas'Ui go ahead."
"I am using the gue'la's internal communications Shas'Vre, it is not two way. You must to to the wall adjacent to the door and depress the green button and reply audibly."
The Shas'vre looked to the door and hurried to the small switch and control pad mounted there. For a moment he had to consider the panel. The blacksun filter did not distinguish colors at all and so all he had was the shade of gray to judge by. Mustering confidence he wasn't feeling he pressed the top button and held it.
"Ui'Endr'Sa this is Shas'Vre Jun'Yin go ahead."
"Thank the Aun, there you are. I have the video feeds from the medical bay up here. I thought the distortion in the feed might have been you two."
Only then did he recall his stealth field was still running. With a thought he dropped it to conserve power.
"Shas'Vre, the ship is back in normal space and Gue'O Hawkes is separating the bridge."
"He is what?"
"Apparently this old ship is a relic of Mars, whatever that means. The fore section of the ship is autonomous in real space. He plans to sever the fore section and rescue what's left of his crew. The human has already ordered the ship abandoned."
"Is that section warp capable?"
"Negative Shas'Vre, but it does have the long range communications on board. The storm troopers are up here salvaging everything they can from the nearby bulkheads for rations and such. Hawkes has decided to take his chances on a 'Bug-less tin can.'"
Jun'Yin glances to Ka'Yaden, but the Shas'Ui was dutifully watching the corridor, carbine ready.
"What about Fia'Shin?"
"I raised her with the same console you are using now. Apparently her team fought of some heavily mutated Yhe in the med bays. Ui'Drin'Sha was killed, but the rest are alive with several surviving gue'la medical personnel. I sent them to the escape pods two bulkheads starboard of you."
"I have no idea which way is starboard Shas."
"Exit the medical bay and head right. Take no branching corridors until you reach a T junction. Take another right there. Carry on that way until you reach the magazine of life pods. We are reading six of the ten have launched. Perhaps Fia'Shin is already off ship."
"We will head that way to ensure it. I assume Del'Ru is still with you?"
"Affirmative Shas'Vre, Gue'O Hawkes assures us there is supplies enough for us to remain on the bridge section. Get to the life boats Shas'Vre, we will circle around and scoop them up once the main section detonates."
"Detonates? What are you talking about Shas'Ui?"
"Gue'O Hawkes has sealed off all power output from the main core and intends to scuttle it. Says there are enough haunted hulks in the galaxy without his ship adding to it."
"Best hurry then Shas'Ui. Your standing orders from now until you receive overriding directives from a Shas'Vre or higher is to make all possible attempt to raise Enclave Command or Shas'O Da'Korst and return to friendly territory. I leave you in command of Del'Ru."
"But Shas'Vre, we'll pick you up..."
"Y..Yes... Tau'Va Shas'Vre."
"Shas'Vre Jun'Yin out."
The Shas'Vre shifted his carbine to his firing hand and stepped out of the bay into the corridor.
"Looks like we have a deadline Ka'Yaden."
"Seems that way."
Both operatives gave a glance back into the medical bay before willing their stealth fields back into effect. The invisibility would help as they ran the corridors, and run they did.