The dais was populated by crew chambers helmed by Kor'Vre section leaders while the leadership of the station all conversed around a central holo generator. Sol'n could pick out Noh'luun instantly, recognizing the famed speaker for Au'taal Sept from vid captures on the Por'Hui back home.
Por'El Noh'luun was tall, almost as imposing as a Shas, but slender, his movements like a dancer as he articulated his speech with enunciating gesticulation. His robes were white, yet crisscrossed with Au'taal green, Ke'lshan yellow and Vash'ya lavender, as though he had adopted all three Septs as his own. He had stylized his hair in a beautiful series of braids that were interwoven with an archaic comb studded with diamonds.
He was in a heated debate with a Shas'El who, like Nars, remained in body armor save for his head which might as well be a second helmet with the amount of bionics grafted to his skull. The warrior had obviously sustained a mortal wound and was arrogant of his survival, leaving the bionics their pre-surgical color, a mustard sepia, that contrasted with his dark blue skin. Twin artificial eyes constantly dilated and focused as he listened to Noh'luun.
A third member of the leadership, a Kor'O in a skin tight body suit, remained silent. He wore a cage of fio'tak around his chest, some kind of gravity compensator, so that he hovered over the deck in a pocket of anti-gravity. The markings on his chest showed that he was a High Admiral yet there were no markings or command favors save a thin, platinum scepter, that he held with both hands against his chest.
Nars stepped out onto the dais and waited patiently. Sol'n took up position at his side, eager to hear any traces of conversation from the beings that were responsible for the Path Resurgence space station.
Noh'luun was speaking; "... The discovery of this operation must be avoided at any cost. Every moment we remain here we put the aspirations of our Septs and the progress of the Third Sphere at risk. Diverting even a single, precious, vessel from our position risks our immediate ascertainment by the enemies of the Tau'va. Sending the flotilla you demand raises that risk a thousandfold." Noh'luun finished, turning to the Firewarrior commander expectantly.
The Shas'El tilted his head, his lip twitching in what could only be annoyance. He did not bother with subtleties, "The colony of He'pha'n is one standard day's travel from our position on the Edge," He pointed at a pulsing gold point on the holomap that slowly drifted in the air between him and the Por'El. Sol'n read that the region of space that bordered Au'taal's Sept was titled; The Edge of Silence.
"They are still fighting against a anomalous force and are failing. Assistance from Au'taal will not make it in time, therefor, I will send any Shas not needed here to assist them as is my prerogative of rank. My brother and sister Kor have enough fighting ships here to protect in the mustering while the Path Resurgence itself could cripple an entire Imperial city-ship. This argument is pointless." He nodded toward the Kor'O who only shifted his weight, remaining neutral.
Noh'luun inhaled, his expression as though he were delivering a funeral rite, "A warrior of your experience understands the pacts of fraternity in times of war more so than a humble servant, such as myself, will ever fathom." He turned, adressing the room, his eyes suddenly locking with Sol'n who almost took a step back in surprise. "Yet, all Tau understand that they work, fight and sacrifice for the betterment of the Empire, of the Greater Good. Each is a delicate cog in the great machination that the Aun guide and each must understand their purpose in light of the greatest works." He turned his attention back on the Shas'El. "I must insist, Sub-Commander, on behalf of the delegation of their excellencies, that the He'pha'n colony face their threat alone."
The Shas'El and Por'El looked at the higher ranked Kor'O, waiting for his mediation. Sol'n watched as the older Tau closed his eyes, considering. When he opened them there was a palpable determination that burned in amber eyes. "Endangering this Coalition is a risk we cannot take."
Noh'luun cocked his head, as if physically accepting the victory over his counterpart. The Kor'O put up a hand and flexed his fingers towards the Firewarrior, "And yet, Shas'El Tae'en is not wrong, for every world, installation and being that serves the Greater Good is, in turn, served by their fellows. Our obligation is great in our protection to the Empire, and it is one that is deserving of risk." He inhaled, raising both hands to encompass the two Caste representatives.
"Our great fleet has massed enough resources and vessels to embark into the Silence. There are a few, notable, latecomers from blessed T'au and the carrier flottilla from Vash'ya... Their presence will be missed." He raised the scepter and pointed at the holo map. "We will install a listening post at our position for the benefit of the Vash'yan and then make our first translation. A fraction of our fleet will carry three cadres of Firewarriors-"
"We cannot spare so many!" Noh'luun gasped.
"We need at least five, Kor'O Yama'nan!" The Shas'El barked. Sol'n felt the breath stolen from him. As a historian, the name of Yama was as famous as any Sept system. Since the First Explorers, the Yama family had lead every major expedition into the stars.
Yama'nan's gaze buffeted the Shas'El's outburst like a forcefield. He continued, "Three cadres aboard the cruiser; Regulant Auspice and her attending escorts will journey to He'pha'n and attend our allies there. Once they succede, they will return to the listening post and join us into the Silence."
Yama'nan gave a curt nod which the 'El's returned with deep bows, and glided from the dais past Sol'n who bowed with as much respect as he could physically muster. When Sol'n straightened he saw that the Shas'El had disappeared as well, leaving Noh'luun alone, staring at the holo images and Noh'luun who seemed to have deflated. Worry lines crisscrossed the Por'El's face, like an actor who had finished a particularly convoluted scene and was now recovering off stage.
"Politics." Noh'luun said, not looking at Sol'n. "Always the most difficult of battlefields... One day I hope the war of words might be integrated into Fire Caste training regiments, lest the Air Caste become the deciding factor in all things." He sighed, turning slightly. "Por'La T'au Sol'n, you are very late and yet come highly recommended from High Speaker 'O Ol'wa Ul'naam Ar'cea."
Sol'n blushed, "I, well, I must apologize, we only just arrived-"
Noh'luun spun on the tip of a hoof, his robes spinning perfectly about him, the fatigue disappearing. "No wordsmith do I see here," His eyes flashed, reading Sol'n like a text slate. "Instead, I see an academic! Mother T'au sends me a historian! Why do you believe they have done this, Por'La?"
"Master Por'Ar'O Ul'naam believed I could assist you gain perspective-"
"Perspective?" Noh'luun closed with Sol'n so that he standing over him, appraising him. "Let us see then. My mission is to repopulate the Silence, a journey of reclamation for the billions who died there a century ago against the Y'he and the Gue'la. The Shas'El is taken a contingent of warriors and one of the finest Vash'yan warships in the Empire. Why does he do this and risk everything we have built here?" To look directly at the Por'El was almost frightening.
"The Admiral is right to send help to He'pha'n-"
"Really? Explain. Give me the moral argument the Shas'El has convinced the Admiral with. I do not make these decisions between life and death blindly." He pointed to the ceiling, "This is the future, sacrifice must be made to ensure that future. I do not relish in the harsh decisions, and the weak of will will cloud the necessity of such decisions."
Sol'n took a breath. "The goal of our mission is to reclaim the Zone of Silence. He'pha'n was a supportive colony to Sha'draig. After the Y'he infestation, Au'taal adopted the planet. To send assistance is fulfilling that mission." Staring at the floor, Sol'n realized the feint sorr'al artwork inlaid into pearl that was the surface of the dais.
When he looked up Noh'luun was smiling. The Por'El had looked up what Sol'n had said on the wrist projector clamped to his arm.
"You are... Correct." He shut the projector off. "A historian indeed. Thank you for joining me at this late hour, Por'La, surely you must be weary from your travels."
Sol'n smiled, confused, "It is still only midday, sir."
Noh'luun cocked his head, mirroring Sol'n's smile identically. "You have arrived here suddenly. It is currently the final night shift in the fleet. All vessels maintain the same chronology, for practicality. I recommend that as a member of my staff, you acclimate."
"Yes, but, I'm not tired." Sol'n said. He looked over Noh'luun's shoulder and saw two Kor'La look at one another and stifle laughter. Realizing he had just rejected his new master's first order, he bowed, apologetically.
"Yes, the Por'O T'au did say you might be uncouth." He chuckled, not an entirely pleasant sound. "May I recommend you, and this yet another Firewarrior statue behind you, travel to the center decks. There is a cantina named Terminable Elipses. Exhaust yourself at my expense." He pressed a projected button on his wrist and Sol'n felt his badge vibrate as currency transferred.
The lower decks could be differentiated from the upper in three ways. First and foremost there were aliens everywhere of every kind. Strange Bentu'sin constructs stretched pneumatic armatures around nimble Galg. At one point Sol'n thought he saw a massive four legged Tardashan.
Next was that the walls narrowed, the open spaces becoming more condensed. A grid lattice of chambers and hallways crisscrossed in a wide ring that wrapped around the entire section of the station. These had been taken over by Water Caste vendors and Earth Caste repair sites open to the public.
Lastly, and Sol'n found the most remarkable, the gravity was greater here than in the Air Caste decks, closer to T'au norms. Sol'n noted that some species were wearing assisting repulsor packs that localized gravity to greater or lesser degrees depending on preference. A wonder.
Entering the three floored cantina, it's ovular structure hanging above a water reservoir designed to look like a lake. A long bridge extended from the bustling 'market district', wide enough so that a clear to and from path was allowed.
Sol'n marveled at the workmanship. They walked two meters above the water, a natural bridge curving from the main deck upward to the cantina structure so that it looked like a plant's seed pod. Nars shadowed him, shoulder set defensively as coming and going patrons flowed on either side.
"I'm sure the Fio'faan understood that we would be traveling for cycles and miss being planetside." Sol'n reflected, watching as a brightly colored filter organism darted just below the surface.
"Do you worry about how long we'll be gone? I read the brief, this is an exodus."
"Those of the Fire Caste go where needed."
"You may never get to see the Septs again."
"And so it may be."
Sol'n frowned. "If we're on board this thing for the rest of our lives you've got to get better at conversations."
Nars chuckled, "It may be I just don't like conversing with you, Por'La."
The portal leading into the ground floor was open, filling the immediate entrance with music being played by a live band of Formosians while lithe dancers of every species performed in front of them. The tune was upbeat, a blend of traditional music heightened by a modern influence.
Some of the patrons hooted and cheered the dancers but most were at private tables being served by a combination of drones and Por'La waiters. The bar was a single carved trunk of Au'taalian blue pine who's center had been cut to house a corps of bartenders.
Sol'n looked at Nars, "Think you can handle a drink since we won't be talking?"
Nars grunted and the two made there way to the bar.
A Por'La turned, smiling, as she cleaned her hands on her apron. "Greetings! What can we provide?"
Sol'n smiled, hopping onto a stool, he looked up at a projected menu above the Por'La while six windows played different Kas'chi'a ball games from the Au'taal Sept. "I have no idea, I've been traveling with my friend here for weeks, just got here this morning, could you recommend something?"
"We have over a thousand varieties, Por'La-"
She looked up, the smile plastered to her face as Nars leaned in, "A carafe of ky'husa."
"Hot or cold?"
"Very hot, please." He sat down.
"We have a vintage from Fy'nosh I can recommend-"
"If you have any strain of Sa'cean grain?"
She nodded, turning and putting the order into a computer terminal.
"I wasn't in the mood for ky'husa."
"It will help you acclimate to the new night cycles after the headache."
"Headache?" The bartender returned with the ky'husa, steaming hot. Nars deftly poured two cups full and put one in front of Sol'n. Sol'n feeling like this was the first ground he'd broken with his bodyguard, held his breath and downed it.
Nars smiled, approvingly, and sipped at his own, amused as Sol'ns eyes bulged and grasped his throat.
"Sands!" Was all he could gasp as the liquid burned his throat and landed in his stomach like a fire. Stepping back, he stumbled into what felt like a durasteel wall.
The wall flinched and Sol'n went tumbling onto the ground, still gasping. Nars stood, alarmed.
A Tarrellian, massive reptiles from worlds beyond the Empire, glared at Sol'n. Spines ran from it's tail to it's head where a mass of cybernetics took over, imbedded in it's mighty skull with a heavy cable. It's jaw readjusted, threateningly, revealing rows of fangs, capped in adamantium. It's scales were a blend of crimson edged with orange, eyes two yellow orbs with black slashes for pupils.
Two other Tarrellians were with it, one with blue scales the other purple with streaks of white. All three had augmented Firewarrior plate on them and were wrapped in white body gloves. All three did not look friendly to Sol'n who lay on the ground.
"Mind your way, liartongue." It hissed.
Nars stepped in, unafraid of the saurians even though he only came up to their chests. "He will." Nars said softly. Nearby patrons gave the growing confrontation a wide berth. Nars bent and picked Sol'n up.
'Orange' met Nars' eyes and saw that the Shas'Ui was not going to be intimidated.
Sol'n, experiencing a dangerous blend of pain and inebriation, cleared his throat. "Why did you call me Liartongue?" He looked at Orange.
Nars squeezed his arm, "Silence, Por'La."
"What else are you good for?" 'Purple' murmured.
"Were it not for the Firewarrior between us your kind might learn how the real galaxy works." Blue said, smiling a wicked grin. The reptiles chortled.
Sol'n straightened, pushing Nars away who remained exactly where he was. "If it weren't for my kind your people would still be running from the Gue'la! Who do you think negotiated your resettlement? You should be buying me a drink!" He grinned, the fire in his belly turning to courage.
The three giant Tarrellians looked at one another and then the diminutive Por'La, stunned. Even the band faltered as the entire cantina directed their attention.
Blue's hands balled into fists and Orange bared his teeth. Nars' hand released Sol'n as it hovered closer to the pistol on his belt. "Get ready to run..." He whispered.
A fragrance cube burned dully, filling the room with a sweet scent that Sol'n had never smelled before. Some of the anxiety he had felt in the transit bled from him. At least these living quarters would be enjoyable, they almost reminded him of the rec rooms at the academy.
On the bed was a fresh set of robes, marked white for 'T'au', as well as a thumb sized copper badge which he picked up.
Nars glanced at it, "It's a comm badge, connects you to the station's internal network and drone assistant programs."
"Yes," Vhem'es nodded, "And in order to facilitate meaningful and beneficial transactions on board the station it also serves as your personal currency reservoir or, 'wallet'. Your credit allowance is," Vhem'es batted his eyes and smiled ruefully, "More substantial than your previous position allowed. There are many Member races on the lower decks dedicated for trade that I could recommend-"
"Are Member races allowed in this part of the ship?"
"An excellent question, La Sol'n. The short answer is 'no'. Save for the military decks the station is open to any species travelling through it as long as their identity card allows them through Junction points. However, living quarters are race-specific."
Sol'n frowned, "And that is normal?"
Vhem'es stopped, as though he must physically 'think' his way through answering. "An endeavor such as this has never been attempted and so I have no example of what 'normal' could mean. The Third Sphere is primarily a Tau effort with only four or five Member Species taking a direct role." He continued walking, turning a corner and taking a few steps down to a wing of apartments.
The path was interrupted by a meditation fountain which bubbled artificially with holographic projected water.
Vhem'es continued, "The journey into the Silence has no less than twelve Member Species while the Path Resurgence itself is the design of the Earth Caste and the Srr'tok Brotherhood. Maintenance is also achieved by a Brachyural colony situated on the Engineering decks below. I believe that it was Por'El Noh'luun and Admiral O'Yama'nan's intent that the vessel be representative of the ideals of the Tau'Va and allow travel between the ship. Where one rests and lives is a private and personal location and so entire decks of the vessel are dedicated to a single race. You may be invited, however, should you petition." He stopped suddenly as the drone above him whistled.
"Ah! Here we are," he waved his hand by the reader mounted in the doorframe.
The room was spartan and small enough that Sol'n could have laid down and touched all corners with his stretched out body. He had expected as much and quickly placed his few items inside. As he tripped the motion sensors, the lights gradually came on, a bed folded out from the left side of the wall and a 'fresher station reorganized itself on the right.
"Welcome, Por'La Sol'n." The room's custodial AI greeted Sol'n from hidden speakers in the room. "You have SIX messages, shall I play them for you?"
Sol'n turned, confused. Vhem'es' own confusion struck the Por'La like lightning and he pulled open his tablet. His eyes, somehow, continued to grow in horror, "La Sol'n, I am so sorry, but I must have been so engrossed in our conversation that I have quite forgotten the time. The Por'El wishes to see you immediately."
"Urksaa rasanas!!" The alien language came from behind the Tarrellians and they snapped around, long necks craning.
Nars fists tightened. He'd been in cantina altercations before with aliens, he had never been by himself with a drunk Por to take care of. The Tarrellians were a rough bunch the Empire over. Refugees from failed wars with the Gue'la, they were a bitter people that had been given settlement rights on the edges of the Western Veil. Proud, to a fault, and quicker to violence than a Vior'lan, the reptiles hated only one thing more than a Gue'la; being reminded of what they had lost to them.
The Tarrellians parted now as a wonderfully familiar Shas'Vre marched through the crowds of apprehensive onlookers. White, almost glowing, armor covered the Firewarriors body along with a Arachen silk cape that was pinned to her shoulder guard by a sigil of T'au. She was not tall or imposing, but there was an ease and grace that belonged more to a predatory felid.
Her blue black hair was tied into tightly woven rows which swept back into a top knot tied with ringlets of Bovul ivory and silver. She paid no mind to the Tarrellians who hissed to one another but then stepped aside, glancing upward to the ceiling in respect for the Tau officer.
"By the sands, you get transferred for on cycle and I'm saving you again." Shas'Vre Han'avrak An'yr, stepped out from the crowd with a smirk on her scarred, strangely beautiful face. Nars had not seen her since he had been assigned to a cadre in the Southern Corridor. Then she had been a 'Ui, like him, leading a team of Pathfinders against mercenaries and bounty hunters that haunted that part of the Empire.
"I guess I don't learn as quickly as you, Shas'Vre." He saluted her, slowly, a grin forcing it's way across his face. She stopped in front of him, reaching out with a hand which he grasped. She pulled him into an embrace, their armor slamming into one another and making a thud. When they separated the smile was gone from her face, splinters of steel in her eyes replacing the friendly familiarity.
"Now," She turned on the three auxiliaries. "What's the problem Ksano Kaar?"
The Orange Tarrellian snapped his jaws before answering, pointing at Por'La Sol'n, "This one disturbs our libation-"
"This non-combatant?" She pointed at Sol'n.
"A civilian trips over you in this cantina while he was," She glanced at Sol'n who's eyes were glazed over, "In his cups..." She grimaced, teeth flashing, "That almost sounds like a joke! And you thought threatening him and a member of the Fire Caste was a worthy reaction?"
Ksano looked to his compatriots who remained staring at the ceiling, "Perhaps a mistake-"
"Perhaps you return to your Clutch and we can discuss this event with Packmaster Saniksak." Orange glared at Sol'n, then Nars, then tilted his head exposing his neck to An'yr. Then he about-faced, snorted at the other two Tarrellians, and the three walked out of the cantina.
As they left, fresh life invigorated the room as the band started up again and the patrons forgot about the near confrontation. An'yr raised a hand to the Por'La bartender who immediately served her a blue tinged tumbler.
Nars put a hand on Sol'n and pulled him into a chair.
"I'm sorry, Nars." The Por'La muttered shaking his head.
"It's alright, Por'La, you're not used to Sa'cean ky'husa. It's not a drink you down all at once, the effects are as if you'd been drinking for the past dec. I'll get you some water."
Once Sol'n was on the mend, Nars stood next to An'yr. The band had been replaced and a Sand Sculptor had come out accompanied by pre-recorded Au'taalian classical horn music. The artist, a handsome Shas, held a fist sized drone which he released before him. The device spun, inner light strobing outward when the Shas tossed handfuls of different hued sand into the air.
The anti-gravitic field about the drone picked up on the particulates, forming a cloud of swirling yellows, whites and reds. Nars had seen Sand Sculpting before, a beautiful style of sculpture originating from Au'taal. An artist would travel about the Empire, collecting different sands from all the worlds and outposts, then tell a story without lyric but with images they formed by manipulating the floating sands with their hands. As the images formed the artist would dash them with swift gestures and create new images in the resulting chaos. It was a metaphor, like most Tau art forms, between the chaos of the Mont'au and the balance of the Tau'va.
Many of the aliens and Tau, by contrast, had never seen such a thing, drawing their attention and hushing the many conversations as hundreds of eyes turned to the artist.
"His name is Shas'La Fuu'r. He's attached to a Counterstrike team, I had no idea he was so good and I've served with him for three cycles. Turns out, in his home system, he's something like a celebrity, unbelievable, right?" An'yr said as she watched the first sculpture of spinning solar system took shape. Fuu'r scattered the star system and quickly created a savannah vista, a figure in the distance looking up at the stars.
"Are you an admirer?" The word caught only slightly in his throat but it was enough.
An'yr didn't look at Nars, watching as Fuu'r changed the savannah to the face of a crowd of pre-unity Tau pointing upward as comets fell from the sky. "Are you asking if I am an admirer his skill or his body?"
Nars didn't say anything so he sipped his drink. It had gone lukewarm and bitter, but he didn't care. An'yr had loved him and he her. They had been in the same generation of T'au's Shas'Ui, freshly tested from their Trials, each put in charge of a team. Their love had been simple, matter of fact, and had never clouded them in their service as they were deployed.
When he had failed in his Trials to become a 'Vre and she had succeeded, it had been an unexpected shift, with An'yr placed aboard a different vessel. It had been too much to adapt to. Too much for him. Things had been said that Nars had meant but could not take back, ending everything they had shared.
"I'm surprised the Shas'Ar'Tol assigned you to... whatever this is." She looked around the cantina as if they were at a viewport assessing the fleet in whole.
"You don't know?" Sol'n hiccuped as he asked. "We're going to reclaim the Silence." An'yr looked down at the seated Sol'n like a Fio would look at a particularly interesting new bug.
"Really. Well, they're certainly enough of us. On our way in I counted at least thirty capital ships, and then there's this monster." She beat the floor with her hoof. "Must be thousands up top and down below."
Fuu'r dashed the crowd and replaced it with the single head of an androgynous Ethereal, the shio'he facial slit replaced by the raised bone that set the Aun apart. Fuu'r gave a twist of his fingers and the Ethereal's mouth opened, waves of sand emanating from it in a cloud. Many in the now captivated audience gasped and applauded.
An'yr gave three polite claps and turned to Nars. "There was a running bet in the Cadre that we'd be going after some sector in the Perdus Rift. Spend the rest of our lives trying to hunt pirates or get the Kroot to stop eating each other." She shook her head, signaling for a fresh drink. "But the Silence? Glad the Shas'El kept everything hush-hush otherwise he'd have been swamped with transfer requests." The drink arrived and she took it.
"But with the added twist of the Shas'Ui Nars picking a fight with a pack of Tarrellians and he's in the know? It's going to make this all worth it." She smiled but Nars only finished his ky'husa. "What happened to you after your trial?"
Nars didn't waiver as An'yr looked into his eyes, "It's a long story, An'yr."
The lights suddenly dimmed in the Cantina. Everyone raised their heads as a klaxon gently hummed to life and was replaced by a female Tau voice.
"Gentle beings, Tau'faan, servants of the Empire, Fleetmaster Yama'nan would like to begin the countdown to our departure. Please return to your designated sector and notify your superiors. A fleet wide announcement will be made shortly once all are secure. Thank you."
"Well, maybe you'll have time to tell me. It was nice seeing you, Nars." She gave a curt nod then looked at Sol'n. "And you, Por'La, it's a rare thing to see a Por pick a fight with a Tarrellian as fresh faced as you." She smiled, then sauntered off as the crowds filed out of the cantina.
Last edited by Calmsword
on Nov 03 2014 02:34, edited 4 times in total.