Monday, August 16, 2010

Tales of the Rancid Blade: Part Thirty One: Deep in Tau space

Dry scrub lands were all about. A grand mound of tan earth dotted with brown and green scrubby plants rose before them. A vast blue sky was above with flecks of yellow clouds. A calm heat rose from the earth and its shimmer made the distances of seem farther. The broad scrubby rise was punctuated by blasts and explosions. The earth kicked up like water under pressure and blue fire rippled through the plants and sent rocks scattering. From Obolis’ stationary transport he watched the humans in full route. Their tracked vehicles were moving slowly backwards up the slope away from his position kicking earth and dust up from their tracks. As they moved away they occasionally fired light weapons to little effect. For a moment he observed one of the transports that had thrown a track. It’s bare wheels spun ineffectually casting earth and dry dust into the air while the remaining track bit into the earth and tilted the vehicle around. This only lasted for a moment before the vehicle was rendered apart by a shot from the Hammerheads along side him. His three heavy tanks, stationary, fired over and over at the retreating humans. Their massive cannons moved quietly, fired with a mechanical growl, and then repeated the process. The slope that was some distance off was quickly becoming a field of debris of wrecked vehicles.

Obolis sank back from the top hatch into the cabin of his skimmer. He stepped down from the portal and walked toward the drop down rear door past equipment racks and several seated Tau. A few of his officers were monitoring screens and checking read outs in the cabin. They seemed oblivious to the demonstration of the Tau heavy firepower outside. He walked out the back door. As he walked he wiped the sweat from his neck with a light blue cloth. The heat was impenetrable even to the Tau. As he left the back door of his transport he observed several other smooth bodied Devilfish cruise past his position.They were heading toward the last of the humans on the ridge line. One of the fish, a observation unit, slowed to a stop before him. It threw dust as it settled on the dry earth. It’s engines powered down. The side door flashed an energy pulse as it depressurised. The circular door opened and swung to one side. Sitting in the portal was Matuim. The two Tau greeted each other as old friends would with a brotherly but brief chin salute. The Water Caste stepped down from the door of the gunship wearing the fatigues of a Pathfinder. He carried his carbine slung over his shoulder and distance goggles atop his forehead. As Maturim approached Obolis the other pathfinders dismounted behind him.

“The tail end of the Hadras settlement?” enquired the Pathfinder of the retreating forces.

Obolis nodded. As he did a stray round from the human tanks impacted not twenty feet from the pair. It showered dry earth over the area. Most of the Pathfinders ignored the round, some ducked, Obolis didn’t flinch. “Your negotiations with this settlement failed also” the Fire Warrior said.

“Your brutal campaign has made it impossible for the me to convince these humans to concede. Sometimes Water can not flow where the Fire has been. It is too hot” Maturm shook his head in vague frustration.

“Perhaps you just don’t make a good argument countered Obolis”

“Perhaps” Maturm said “and what’s more likely is that the Imperials are gathering at Roths Head and these humans know they are about to be the beneficiaries of a counter attack. The main columns of Imperial Troops have pulled back all along this front. The locals are offering this weak counter attack to slow you down.” Obolis knew this to be true. The Imperials seemed to be fighting a long fight. They would hold a position until the last moment and then would fall back. They fought an effective rearguard maneuver with few troops and by the time it failed (which was occurring on the ridge before them), the main forces had regrouped. This had taken months and months and was wearing his forces down. Even though he gained ground it was though he were grinding into the sea. Another round flew overhead crashing some distance off. It made a screech as it flew past.

“What news from the Expansion” Obolis asked of the wider war.

“Well” his friend said “As you know the fleet has passed beyond this world and on to the Sphere. They look to the Human industrial worlds to conquer and provide munitions for the wider war. We are left here to rid this world of resistance”. Obolis new this well. As punishment for loosing New Boston, or at least not securing it well enough, he had been assigned to finish the job he hard started. He had been given supreme command of taking this world. This campaign would probably take years and all the while the vast Exploratator Armada was moving past this world and deep into Imperial space~ and glory. Anemos and the heathen Ethetrial had left this world and left it to him. Even if victory occurred here, it would be a long forgotten victory, a sub paragraph in the record of the Cemephon Sphere Expansion. He cursed as he thought of it. He was expected to forget the fact that this was one of the most well secured border worlds, forget the fact that it was Anemos that had agreed to bring the heathen kin to New Boston, and forget the fact that she had left him with a shadow of the forces that had once been here... And now he suffered on this lonely backwater world~ his only compensation to be a forgotten victory.

“The Imperial fleet has not been so easy to dispatch as those humans on the hill” Maturn said. “My reports tell me that the expansion is languishing. Things do not progress as the Etherial had predicted. It is as though some evil saps our youth. Ships have been lost to warp storms or blasted apart by the large guns of the Imperials.”

“We’ll they may be clumsy, but when they hit they hit hard.”

“They do”. The two Tau sat on the stop of the rear ramp of the Devilfish, now clearly relaxing.

“What of your networks? What do they tell of our campaign here?” asked Obolis.

“Well, there are some who believe that this world is already won.”

“What?” Obolis gestured toward the human tanks “The Imperials are still fighting”.

“Well, the Water Caste believes that were we to withdraw the humans on this world would look around and realize that they’re deep in Tau space.”

Obolis looked oddly at his friend.

“Look” said Maturm scratching his head and taking off his earpiece “The war is long gone. Our fleets have passed this world by and the real war is far off. You’re fighting a mopping up campaign. If you withdraw the Water Caste could start working with these humans and bring them into our greater good. Right now they fight you because you’re attacking them. If you withdraw they’ll realise that they’re so disconnected from the Imperium that they’ll have little choice but to work with us”.

Obolis breathed a sigh but with some optimism in his voice he said “and I’ll be reassigned to the front~ the actual front”.

“True enough” his friend said. “I think this battle is over. All it will take is for one side or the other to realise it.”

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