The Gue'la had been selected among his brothers, alone, by Shas'vre Ro'katta, but Shas'ui Sama wasn't convinced that meant his guess was any better when it came to why the mission demanded him. Carefully watching the auxillary, as his ancestors would have watched a foolish mountain anuk lost on the plains, Sama took every swallow or shift of weight as a sign, gratefully, that the Gue'la was just as nervous and out of his depth as him.
But still, some anuks were poisonous. And the Gue'la was doing a very good job of pretending Sama wasn't there.
Sama recalled the meditations on the Way of the Warrior. "A hunter must be underestimated by his prey, and overestimated by his own predators." Well, it was probably more eloquent when Puretide said it, but the message had stuck. This was a still-life savannah, the rustling grass replaced by cooling fans, the beating heat of the sun inverted into a sapping, frigid chill. At any moment, it could explode into a dynamic scene, ultimately leaving a life much, much more still.
Even beneath his thick bodysuit panels, pulsing with temperature-controlled ducts and wiring, Sama felt cold beads of sweat prick his skin. He kept his helmet cocked at an off-kilter angle, not looking directly at the Gue'la or anything else, but the wide-angle cameras easily picked up his every shallow breath and flick of the eyes. The imbalance pleased Sama, but seemingingly did not phase the Gue'la. He stared straight ahead, following the Fio as they tinkered with their machines across the bay. He was either too stupid to notice the tension, or so confident in his footing that he believed no undercurrents would sway him. From where Sama was sitting, there seemed no reason for such arrogance, but there was no way to know, and the uncertainity made his blood boil.
A HUD-alert popped up with some nonsense about his heartbeat. Sama tore the helmet off and sat it on the cargo crates, already behind him as he strode towards the Gue'la. The man started and pawed at his uniform - to Sama, as if looking for a weapon - but none was found.
"Trooper. What's your ID number?" Sama asked in a voice that, hopefully, dripped condescension and intimidation. He was rewarded with a large gulp as the Gue'la searched his face with his small, beady occipital globes. Their milky whiteness made Sama think of a neurotic Battlesuit pilot or a cripple wasting away in old age. He had never been this close to a Gue'la before, and started to regret the decision, but it was too late now.
"What's the matter. Cat got your tongue?" He had heard this expression before - wasn't quite sure what it meant, but presumed his intelligence on the Gue'la, down to culture and heritage, would impress upon him how outmatched any tactical engagement would be. Although, with the strange movement and sounds that came from his throat earlier, perhaps the Gue'la really did have some organ that detached or disabled their oral muscles in times of stress.
"ID number five-oh-six-three-three-seven-oh. Sir." The Gue'la threw a salute that had Sama considering hand-to-hand combat before he remembered this strange custom of theirs, but he was relived that he didn't have to deal with a dumb and mute Gue'la, or the possibility of a medical emergency.
"Tell me, trooper five-zero-six-three-three-seven-zero. Do you understand how battles may be decided before a single shot is fired?"
"Well, sure, sir. Shas'ui." Sama was no expert on Gue'la body language - primitive as it was compared to the Tau - but was certain nervousness radiated from this one. He simply waited for the Gue'la to further explain himself, and the stance he'd adopted.
"Uh, it's like the game of chicken. Two people start driving towards each other, and..." Sama's head swirled. He was not sure exactly what a chicken was, but knew it was a type of Gue'la anuk. Was this one of their "psykers", somehow peering into his mind? Is that why he was so relaxed earlier, but if so, how had he not predicted Sama's approach? Even as he asked himself the question, he realized he had no thought of his actions before he took them. He came back to the present just as the Gue'la was finishing with "I've never seen a chicken, though," bringing only further confusion. Was the chicken indeed a poisonous anuk, and the Gue'la implying the Tau would never see it coming? Puretide had warned him! His own ancestors would not place themselves in reach of any beast without being certain they would best it.
The Gue'la was staring at him, waiting for him to make his move. The situation was bad, even one-sided. Sama was considering disengagement options when something caught the Gue'la's eye and he squeezed past the Fire Warrior with a certain gingerness that Sama couldn't place. Muttering something as he went by, Sama was content to let him go before he turned and saw his target: Shas'vre Ro'katta. The impudence of this Gue'la knew no bounds! Daring to approach the captain of a Tau mission without the Tau element! Teeth clenched, Sama caught up to the Gue'la just as he was, again, carrying out his strange salute, and gave Ro'Katta the proper warrior hail.
The ritual was returned before Ro'katta turned to the Gue'la and said "At ease, Jorge. I'm sure you're both curious and eager for details on your assignment."
The Gue'la turned to Sama, mouth agape. "You mean to say, sir, that this trooper is the muscle?" The Gue'la hadn't even known!
"Correct. He will be operating a Drone Controller with two specially modified Kor'vesa, assembled by Fio'ui Lynu'is. Lynu and Por'vre Ken'hesa will also be joining your expedition." Lynu was overjoyed to be assigned to this mission, and had been talking about it excessively with Sama during their weekly shrimp cocktails. He was happy for his friend, but a Fire Warrior, even a drone operator, can only hear so much talk about machinery before he wishes to go to the range for target practice. Ken'hesa was only a face and a reputation to Sama, but the reputation was good, and he heard the same of the face. Sama was confident in the success of the mission, as long as the Gue'la could pull his weight.
"Shas'vre, this Gue'la was provided the mission briefing packet many rotaa ago, just as the rest of the team - yet, he did not bother to learn even his teammates' names. His blindness jeopardizes our success." Sama spoke in Gue'la'sia to drive the message home.
"Shas'ui Ksi'm'yen B'sama Or'vesa, I do not need to remind you that I selected this Gue'la myself." The Shas'vre's formal address stiffened Sama's back, but he was grateful that the captain spoke in Tau. "I have watched this one. He understands the patterns that weave through life. We first took note of him when some trace supplies went missing. It was difficult to locate the culprit, but we eventually discovered the Gue'la exploiting holes in internal security to swipe food from the Kor'vesa as they carried it from the kitchen to outlying duty watches." Sama took a sidelong look at the Gue'la with new appreciation. He was, indeed, a dangerous anuk.
"I am not certain how much of our culture he understands, or if he only embraces it for his own benefit. But this mission will demand his awareness and familiarity with the Gue'ya, as well as test him for us."
"Excuse me, Shas'vre. I hope I'm not interrupting anything important, but I believe there's a Fio here to see you." The Gue'la was wearing a subtle smirk that made Sama think he knew exactly what he was interrupting.
Lynu'is came up behind Ro'katta, wearing a broad smile. Sama realized with a start that this Gue'la - Jorge - had been watching preparations on a dropship in the machine-shop the whole time, while he hadn't even realized his friend was here. He cursed himself again for his poor perception. Still, seeing Lynu's grin relaxed Sama somewhat. He was glad there'd be at least one familiar face on this expedition.
"Greetings, Shas'vre Ro'katta! Greetings, friend Sama! Greetings, human Jorge!" The alien word rolled off Lynu's tongue with difficulty. Or maybe that's how Gue'la'sia was supposed to sound. "I need you to come with me to our dropship! Final preparations must be made, and we do not have a data model for your spatial profile! Do you know the maximum forward acceleration your body can endure?" Lynu led the Gue'la away, his voice somehow still rising above the pumps and pistons.
"Remember I hand-selected you as well, Shas'ui."
Sama's face flushed slightly at the acknowledgement. "Thank you, Shas'vre." He ducked his head, but closely watched the captain.
"Few between the Cadres know each other on the basis of personal names. You and Fio'ui Lynu'is have been friends for some time now, yes?"
"Yes," Sama said softly, watching his - yes, his friend - across the bay. "We frequently happened into each other at the drone range. Every time I would down a drone, he reprogrammed or modified it in some way to make it stronger." Sama didn't tell his superior about the races.
"Indeed. Your aptitude at corraling drones is well known, so I'm sure Fio'ui Lynu'is had a most interesting challenge. But most would leave it at that. And despite your skill, you choose to become a Pathfinder, rather than a Sniper Drone Operator."
Ro'katta paused for a moment. Sama, no longer looking at her, still felt her gaze upon him, but said nothing.
"The Gue'la are disorganized and chaotic. In many ways, our Caste system is better, but the belief that it is flawless is fit only for Shas'saal who do not yet understand their place - or the Tau's place - in the galaxy." Sama wanted to back to his drones, where there were no Gue'la to contend with or honored pilots seemingly transgressing against the teachings of the Tau'va. "You know we are to establish a trading agreement with this Gue'la. At this time, border expansion is not desired or intended. But should it become feasible, we must judge the level of resistance the Gue'la will put up. Por'vre Ken'hesa is an excellent negotiator and surveyor, which is exactly what we need for favorable business agreements. But the Gue'la know our practices. We have boxed ourselves in by the Caste system. They do not wish to be worn down by two Por talking as water."
Ro'katta's eyes found Sama's looking up at her again. Truth rang in her words. "Protection is, of course, your primary responsibility. But you must also take note of the Gue'la's predispositions and reactions. Mind, at all times, their perception of and reactions to you. Already you will be going places the Por'ar'tol and Shas'ar'tol cannot. During diplomacy, we are restricted to the capital, but you will be visiting field sites to inspect their production capacity. And as a lowly guard detail, you will be able to go places the Por'vre cannot, in the name of security. The image given by the Gue'la's apparatus does not always match the truth on the ground. So, you find, it is with the Tau." Ro'katta watched Sama carefully, but this time, he was calm.
"Your ability to bridge the gap between Fire and Earth is why I selected you for this mission. Out of all our warriors, none will be as likely to connect with the Gue'la as you." Ro'katta chuckled quietly. "Indeed, your confrontation with Jorge convinces me only further!" Sama began a rebuttal, but Ro'katta waved him off before he could really begin.
"A Gue'la simply ignoring you was enough to elevate your vitals to combat-lull levels. Listen well, Sama. Jorge did not notice you because you were one of many. Why pay attention to any insect when inside their hive? At first, you notice nothing, overwhelmed by the sights and sounds. Then, the patterns of movement become clear. Distractions, if disruptive, are jarring and obvious; if innocuous, simply ignored as a fixture. You were the latter, until you stood up. And the same explains your focus on him. Why should a Fire Warrior be concerned with any movement of the Castes unless he can assist them? We are all in service to the Greater Good, but not yet this outsider."
Sama was starting to realize why Ro'katta was a a Shas'vre. He felt like he wanted to keep talking to her, but also needed a couple decs to process all of this.
"You will have to do both." So much for rest. "Notice the big picture, the tidal motion of the Gue'la. But do not forget the anchors that stand steady. They shape and direct the masses. And any agitation..." - she flashed a lopsided smile - "may help us topple them."
At that moment, the Gue'la and Lynu returned from the dropship, this time with a pair of drones in tow. "Sama, we must take these beautiful Kor'vesa to the practice range! You will not believe the modifications the 'Vre has allowed me to install!"
"Indeed," Ro'katta interjected. She'd already picked up on the fact that you couldn't just let Lynu talk. "The drones are to provide security as well as geographic surveying data. The Gue'la are, of course, aware of the specifications, but Por'ui Lynu'is will explain in detail to you later." Ko'ratta was talking to Lynu, but looking at Jorge.
"I understand you perfectly, Shas'vre Ro'katta! Without a doubt, the technicalities would go over this poor vesa's head!" Lynu clapped Jorge on the shoulder.
Switching to Gue'la'sia, Ro'katta addressed the auxiliary directly. "And you, as well, understand your purpose?"
"Of course, Shas'vre. It will be good to get back to familiar territory."
"I think the Gue'la claims innocence too frequently," Sama said levelly, speaking now in Gue'la'sia to show respect as much as to impress. "Despite not reading the briefing, he identified my rank by armor markings alone when I approached." He extended his fist in the traditional bump of respect.
Instead, the Gue'la took it and shook it wildly. He would never fully understand them - but the smallest of nods of approval from Ro'katta showed that he was noticing what he was supposed to. Sama looked his new teammate in the eye. "Jorge, is it? I am Shas'ui B'sama Or'vesa, Pathfinder Team Leader and Drone operator. I trust the Shas'vre has made the correct decision in choosing you."
Jorge nodded, eyeing his new comrade up and down. "Right. Same to you, I guess." Thankfully, with that he stopped flailing Sama's hand.
I've been thinking about communities a lot lately, and this partially came from that inspiration. I referenced the new Lexicon we have, so thanks for that Doombringer, and hopefully followed the rules of grammar/etiquette well enough. Let me know if there's any typos or conceptual mistakes! Wasn't meaning to start a grand story but it might end up that way...
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