The crest of the hill was rocky and strewn with brooms of brown tall grass. The sandy dirt was a dull yellow color. A brilliant blue sky reached from horizon to horizon interrupted only by the occasional dry rise in the land in the distance. If one were to have cast an eye at the hilltop without a detailed inspection or the assistance of a view enhancer one would have missed the two small figures crouched amongst the rocks at the hem of the bluff. A shelter field masked and distorted the colors of their uniforms so that they appeared yellow and brown as the surrounding landscape. They had been crawling about on the bluff for a few hours now that so much of their clothing was the same dusty yellow of the earth. Maturn sat amongst the Rockey outcroppings with a scope that he’d detached from his weapon held up to one of his large dark eyes. His view carried him down into a slight sloped valley before them. Nearby, Atticus, another Pathfinder in his team, cradled his pulse carbine in his arms while keeping an eye out for movement close at hand. He would occasionally look through his scope toward the valley below and then shift back to the surrounding area.
Through the scope Maturn watched a column of Imperial tanks advancing. He pondered the many behemoths as they churned up the yellow earth. The column was lead by three large battle tanks. They were followed by six or so armored personnel tanks and then several dozen humans on foot. He watched them march. There was a spring in their step. It was a confidence that he hadn't seen on a human’s face since the start of the war on this world. They were advancing on an enemy position. Also something that hadn’t happened for them in a long while. He tapped the top of his scope with a stubby blue finger as he considered the column. He noted several preachers walking along behind the foot soldiers chanting as they went. One of them held a censor. The smoke of their faith could be seen wafting from its innards as the holy-man swung it. He could see some of the foot soldiers chanting along with the priests, their mouths moving. They were too far away to hear a sound. He also observed several artillery pieces moving along behind the foot soldiers. Large tracked guns.
“If this is a typical column their advance will be slow” Atticus noted while viewing the slow progress of the foot march.
“Yes” Maturn said slowly not taking his eye from his scope. “A giant can move slowly and blunder about and still wreak havoc all around”. They both sat in silence for some time as the column passed them by. The sound of a stutter bird’s call echoed in the distance. Shhhii, shhhi, shii. They ignored it.
After some time Atticus turned quickly to the east. He pulled his weapon into an aiming stance. Matrun lowered the scope from his eye slowly and turned his head to observe an approaching human. He was a soldier from the column. The tau had been waiting for him. Maturn rose from his seated position and walked toward the human under the watchful eye (and barrel) of Atticus’ weapon. The man wore a camo green grey uniform and a green cap. The insignia of an Imperial infantryman, standard barer class, hung at the man’s shoulder. Maturn nodded as the human approached.
“Maxwell, it is good to see you again” Matun spoke in the human language of this man’s homeworld with barely a trace of an accent.
Maxwell nodded casting a nervous glance around. “Maturn” he said in acknowledgement.
“I am happy that we can bridge the gap between our two races once again. The peace that we force here will soon spread...”
“You talk too much” the human cut off the tau.
Maturn attempted as close to a grin as his alien face could manage. “You’re right. Maxwell, brief as always. I like that.”
“Sure” the human muffled and then coughed. “Did you bring the beans?”
“Yes” he said. At this the man’s hand shot out. Maturn observed a quiver in the man’s hand and it sought the ‘beans’. Maturn hesitated. “A partnership is always a trade” said the Water Caste member. The man’s hand slowly withdrew to his pocket. The human reached down into his fatigues and pulled a small datacard. He presented it to the tau.
“Troop deployment plans” he said.
“Are the Marines included?” Maturn asked taking the card from the man.
“Yes. I also got the communication transcripts like you asked.”
Maturn nodded. Maturn liked to read the conversations between the human generals. Their petty bickering conveyed so much information. He imagined himself and his prying into their arguments as a thick viscous liquid closing about them. He knew so much about these men who opposed him, yet they didn’t even perceive him. The arguments between them were like the cracks in the massive wall. He saw the cracks so clearly, so well. Any monument can crumble with enough cracks he thought to himself. All he needed to do was flow into the cracks and wider and wider they would become.
Maturn took from his pocket a blister of pills. Small plastic enclosed capsules in a bean shape. They had a light blue color. He handed over the blister and the man’s eyes focused on the pills. “There are always more ‘beans’” Matrun said. The man looked up at the tau. A small laugh of self doubt issued from the human. “I need the communication codes next time. I need to be able to intercept and modify the transmissions”. The man rubbed his chin as if pondering the words. “I need them soon” he said. “Once this war heats up again there will be few times for us to meet. You’ll have to make the beans last much longer.”
The man nodded. “It can be done”
Maxwell started to back away slowly. Maturn looked past him. The light had begun to fade into the early evening. Maturn raised his three fingered hand in a wave.
“I think you’re forgetting something my friend” he said. The human paused and swallowed hard. Maxwell raised his hand in a similar fashion to the alien but in the human it seemed like a hand raised in surrender. Maxwell spoke as a defeated man.
“For the greater good” he said
“Yes” said Maturn “For the greater good”.