Disclaimer: I did not write this story. This was a RP that mutated into a story when the GM fleshed out the parts. I read the whole thing on a Word document and liked it a lot. I do not gain anything from this and only wish to see this story in its entirety archived somewhere online for fellow Warhammer 40k fans to read and discuss. I'd like to acknowledge the authors (the people who played the RP and the GM); LT BradfordDakkagorIxajinFelwetherSand Queen2 Heads TalkingCleal BarosNo-OneLord General ArmstrongFarseer Matt This story was posted with the permission of the GM, Farseer Matt. Who took the time and effort to gather the various characters and weave a story. It should also by noted that I do not own Warhammer 40k. This is the uninterrupted version of the story. ****** PROLOGUE "I'll see that bet and raise you a ration pack." Five men and one woman sat around the makeshift table, their faces dimly illuminated by the lumglobes that had been hammered into the rock walls of the cave system. Their clothes, like their faces, were dusty and creased. The discarded flak vests and helmets that were piled nearby were, however, immaculate. Several others were watching the card game and betting on the outcome. “I'll accept that bid,” declared another of the men through his lho stick. He sucked on the cigarette thoughtfully, savouring it. Such luxuries were in extremely short supply.“I want to buy another card.” The dealer, a man with dark skin and the kind of wiry, muscular frame that was perfectly designed for the efficient application of violence, turned to face him. With a wolfish grin he took the first man's coins, but did not deal him another card in exchange. “I humbly request that you deal me another card, sergeant Rana sir,” the guardsman rephrased with a hint of snark in his voice. The dealer then dealt him his card. "So, who can't wait to kick some fishhead ass?" said one of the other players, a hatchet-faced woman with short dark hair. She tossed a magazine onto the growing pile of stakes in the centre of the table as she spoke. "Another few months of this shit an' I'm gonna go friggin' insane." "Me too, Dietrich," grunted the fourth player, a man with a thin face and red-brown hair, "Death's hanging around my neck like a weight." "Well," the dealer, sergeant Rana, declared as he set an unopened bottle of Achtung next to the pile, "I call. Straight flush of Staves." His declaration was met with cries of disappointment and muttered complaints as he reached for the massive pile of knick-knacks, coin and booze before the fifth player cleared his throat pointedly. "Not yours until you have the highest hand, sir," he grinned before revealing his cards, which caused several shocked reactions from the other players and some in the crowd around them, "Look, a Full Court!" The winner sat back, crossing his arms after shovelling the pile of trinkets onto his side of the table, dancing in his seat and humming a made-up victory fanfare. “Nicely done, Mr Jalousies.” Rana said, bowing his head with exaggerated grace, “But you might not get so lucky next time. Gaius is dealing next, and you've yet to get more than a high card whenever he deals.” “It's 'cause he always draws up aces for you,” Jalousies complained. “What can I say?” said Gaius, the sixth man at the table, “I've got connections.” “I thought it was soldier first, preacher second?” countered the hatchet-faced woman called Dietrich. Gaius shrugged. “That must be why the aces keep going to our esteemed sergeant.” He indicated Rana. “I always get sweet F.A back when my best card goes to Aaron here.” Jalousies went on, gesturing to the red-headed man next to him. Aaron merely turned to him and smiled. “What's the matter, Alexander? The Tau not paying you enough for that first-date present you're going to give my sister when you finally get round to asking her?” “Atten-tion!” Every man and woman in the room sat bolt upright and stretched their arms out across the table as a familiar, sandy-haired figure ducked through the entrance. “Having fun, boys and girls?” he asked with a slight grin as he cast an eye over the loaded games table. “Is it time, sir?” asked the dark-skinned sergeant Rana. “It's time, Hiero.” the sandy-haired man confirmed, “I'll need you, Marrick and the others ready to go by dawn at the latest. Ramado's expecting you.” “Yes sir.” said Rana and Aaron together. “Dietrich, I believe you volunteered for the contingency team?” “Yes sir.” answered the hatchet-faced woman. “Report to Soren, he'll give you the details.” “Yes sir!” “And Jalousies?” The newcomer frowned as he noted Jalousies at the games table. In his former regiment Jalousies had held the rank of lieutenant, and so it was strange to see him mixing with the enlisted men here. Then again, times had changed since the occupation. “Yes sir?” Alexander Jalousies responded, much more businesslike now, the pile of winnings on the table in front of him forgotten. “You'd better get moving if you want to be back in time for your shift with the blue-bloods.” Alexander’s face split into a Machiavellian grin. “Yes sir.” ****** Dawn was breaking over the equatorial region of the planet Valkora, and Shas’la Ke’lshan Lynu’cha watched it from his quarters in the former Imperial command centre, his backswept fire warrior helmet cradled in his hands. His armour and helmet were coloured the grey of Ke’lshan, crossed through with the yellow flashes that donated his rank and station. Fire warriors in the field tended to be issued with camouflage armour appropriate to the terrain, but as a recent transfer to the peacekeeping Shas’kar’tyr, Lynu’cha wore his sept colours openly. Below him lay the city of Tasckird, a human name that sounded odd to Lynu’cha’s ears, but the new Tau government had decided not to do something as provocative to the natives as brand the city with a new Tau name in the wake of the Imperial surrender. This was a liberation after all - as the Water caste insistently termed it - not an occupation. A river bisected the city, providing water for an otherwise parched landscape. Most of the rain coming in from the coast was captured by another range of mountains some distance west of Tasckird, and as a result the flatlands around the city were dry and arid, the stones and rockrete of the city itself bleached white by the relentless sun. A Shas’ui in Lynu’cha’s old hunter cadre, who had once had the honour of visiting T’au, had commented to Lynu’cha that the vista reminded him of the Tau’s ancestral homeworld. The city’s population was 80% human with a minority of Tau peacekeepers and other Empire client races, and the architecture reflected this - most of the buildings bore the blocky, angular look of Imperial STC design. It was unlovely to Tau eyes, but it also exuded a kind of primitive power, the city’s existence a defiance of the arid landscape which surrounded it. The area around the city was scrub and rock, on the verge of full-blown desert, except to the south where the featureless plain was broken by a range of mountains - once home to renegades and Chaos cults long eradicated under the Imperial regime, now they served as a base to the few human partisans who had refused to accept Tau dominion in the wake of the occupation. This was the unfortunate flipside of the stubbornness that had allowed the humans to thrive and build cities such as Tasckird. In the city below the humans were beginning to stir, shaded by thin headscarves or wide-brimmed hats against the equatorial sun that would reach its full intensity in 4 or 5 decs. They made their way to their designated workplaces by car or train, which was gradually reopening as the Earth caste worked to repair the mag-lev network that had been severely damaged during the invasion. It was vital that the Tau be seen to benefit the natives wherever possible, to lessen civil unrest and resentment against their new alien overlords. The Water caste propaganda would never admit it, but it was a turbulent time for the young and dynamic Tau Empire. True, Aun’O Vash’ya Mont’shi’s campaign to expand the empire’s borders had secured several new Sept worlds - Valkora among them - and driven off the first speculative human counterattacks. However, this success had been marred by the failure of the concurrent Medusa V expedition, and the shocking discoveries made there. New knowledge of the Warp had led to a halting of the Earth caste’s ambitious new warp-drive project while the true threats of this mysterious realm were assessed. What this would mean for psykers among the Tau’s client races remained uncertain, but a decision from T’au was surely pending. Furthermore, mere months later, a brutal counterattack by the Imperium’s elite “Ultramarines” had undone almost all of commander Shadowsun’s Third Sphere expansion. The human known as Sicarius had used the same rapid strike tactics as the Tau themselves to reclaim most of the Zeist sector, and this stunning defeat had sent waves through the Septs, none more so than those whose population consisted mainly of humans recently liberated from the Imperium. For the first time, doubts had been cast that the Tau Empire might have overstretched itself. Despite being situated near the original border of the Empire and having been conquered right at the start of Mont’shi’s campaign, Valkora was not exempt from such unrest. A year after cessation of hostilities the world was officially pacified, but the situation remained delicate. The partisans in the south were an omnipresent menace, and news of the Zeist incident might tip the locals over the edge. The Tau were doing all they could to improve relations with the native population, from stepping up reconstruction projects to inducting human Gue’vesa into the local peacekeeping forces. That was Lynu’cha’s job. In spite of any personal misgivings he might have towards the unpredictable humans, he would work with them to protect the city and, hopefully, this demonstration of unity repeated across the city would help to defuse tensions. For the Greater Good. Lynu’cha checked his timepiece. His shift was due to start in 0.7 decs. He turned away from the window and pulled on his helmet, tapping a stud behind his right ear and watching the status icons wink green one after the other on his HUD as the internal radio and blacksun filter tested and then returned to idle. “Kor’vesa 2724, activate.” The discus-shaped escort drone locked into a power terminal on the rear wall lit up and detached itself from its socket, hovering to Lynu’cha’s side on small anti-grav motors. The Shas’la pulled two magazines from a drawer, slotted them into the drone’s underslung pulse pistols and headed for the door with the escort drone whirring along in his wake.