The Calm Before the Storm

Shas’El Hun’k stood on the edge of a precipice, the feet of his battlesuit practically touching the void. Milky white clouds stretched out beneath him as far as he could see, extending to the rich blue-black of the horizon and pulling a veil across the eyes of Yoke, hiding the fierce battle that raged between the cold stars above. His external noise indicator immediately peaked in the red as the Orca’s rear ramp had swung open and the ice warning icon on his heads-up display was slowly pulsing, but inside his command XV8 armour all that Hun’k could feel was the warm, dry air-recyc. The audio-damps had cut out the howling rush of air so he could clearly hear the calming music of the soft Tau’n mood pipes playing over channel 251.

Intermittent ruby lances of las-fire stabbed upwards in the distance, momentarily birthing bright red stains in the clouds as they diffracted through the mist. They were many leagues away, but Hun’k knew that it was intended for them; the beams clearly weren’t potent enough to have any noticeable effect on the battle raging between the leviathan craft above them. Clearly the Gue’la were expecting a drop at any moment.

Overhead the Tau fleet engaged the arcane Manufactorium-Cruisers of the Adeptus Mechanicus in a long range dual. The Tau couldn’t hope to match the broadside power of the human craft, but their ability to stand off and deal damage at range with bombers and drone torpedo swarms was second-to-none. Although Hun’k couldn’t see the fleet action from this angle, the stream of flaming debris raining down into the atmosphere below was testament to the fact that somebody was suffering badly.

“All units report ready, comrade,” a voice said in Hun’k’s ear. He turned the head of his battlesuit, bringing its glowing lens to rest on Shas’ka Nan, leader of the Brightsword Protectorate. Nan stood beside Hun’k battlesuit on the edge of the drop ramp, holding onto the Orca’s internal rail. He couldn’t see the commander’s lips moving behind the Fire Warrior’s helmet, just his voice speaking over the comms.

“The drop can proceed on your signal.”

“I am ready, brother,” replied Hun’k. But was he? This had all seemed like such a grand plan when it was discussed several months ago at the last council meeting. Assault the primitive Gue’la in their machine-temples, topple the sentinel worlds and seize the Hyperion Corridor for the Greater Good of the Tau Empire. Back then he was sure that the rest of the council was behind him, but now he felt his support had ebbed away, leaving him with the backing of Shas’ka, and K’myar’sa, if that.

The other esteemed members of the council seemed to have settled on the more conservative course of action espoused by the renegade human Maltheus; the colonisation of Mourning Spirit. Hun’k did not fully trust this Gue’la, no matter what secrets he supposedly shared with them for the Greater Good. The Tau commander would definitely be keeping an eye on him. He only hoped that it would not cost too many Tau lives to uncover the human’s treachery.

In the meantime, he had a planet strike to lead. If he could easily sweep aside the human resistance on Yoke, then the council would surely be forced to see the wisdom of his strategy for Tau dominance in the sector. Even if he was recalled after the battle was won on this world, and forbidden from pressing on to Braun as we wished, at least the Tau Empire would have a beachhead to return to when the time came to push further into the sector - not to mention the hardship the lack of agri-supplies would cause amongst the Gue'la military.

This was something that the High Command would doubtless wish to follow up once this Mourning Spirit nonsense was settled. Hun’k had read the reports, there were certainly plenty of resources and agri-potential on the planet, but little strategic value. He couldn't help but wonder if the other members of the Protectorate Council knew something that he didn't.

“Then good hunting comrade,” replied Shas’Nan, activating the green go-light, “we will meet at the second rendezvous point in two hours. For the Greater Good!”

Hun’k nodded, the head of his battlesuit copying his movement for Sash’Nan to see.

“Aye, for the Greater Good.”

The explosive charges on the overhead rail fired and Shas’El Hun’k’s battlesuit was launched from the back of the Orca, his shield drone and bodyguard close behind him. Waypoint distance markers to the other drop units appeared on his heads-up display as other battlesuits exited the surrounding fleet of Orcas. Beneath him a large grey shape skimmed though the clouds; a Manta scattering the gaspods as it returned from transporting the mechanised elements of his assault to the drop zone three kilometres north of his target.

Less than a minute and he’d be on the ground. With that thought Hun’k was swallowed up by the rolling clouds.

Shas’ka Nan was just able to see Hun’k and the drop elements of his cadre disappear into the clouds as the disembarkation ramp finally closed itself with a hiss. He stood in contemplation for a moment, before turning around and striding purposefully towards his silent battlesuit that crouched at the rear of the Orca’s hold.

“Pilot, Shas’El Hun’k is clear, proceed to the second drop zone,” instructed the commander.

“For the Greater Good,” responded the pilot, swinging the Orca around to its new heading.