I've been thinking, and here's my thought: What happened to Alice during Michael's Mind War?
Thanks to Windswept Chaos for beta-reading parts of this script.
Thought for the Day: "Friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate." - Murphy's Laws.
Crazy. The two boys were totally batfuck insane! Little miniatures, all running around the place with functional weapons! Alice was curled up in the corner of the living room, sitting beside the charred and looted remains of a cabinet. Michael was passed out on the lazyboy a few yards away. She looked on into the kitchen as Vincent seemed to accept the new arrivals, except with some of his usual 'obsessed nerd' mannerisms. He was attracting a lot of attention from tank turrets.
"Hey, I'm only looking!" Backing away from the command chimera, he held up his hands as the commander of the 1337th Logistics Corps (It was printed on the side of the tank, in vaguely alphabetical symbols) pointed the pintle-mounted gun at the skyscraper sized nerd.
"That's the entire problem, boy! Stay back from mah tank!" The man screamed up, his voice enhanced by the vox-caster.
"Aww, c'mon! I mean, I've seen some decently painted Chimera before, but this is the real thing!"
There was the sound of movement, the subtle rustle of clothes as Vincent squatted down and reached out. A quick whine betrayed the charging of energy cells, and there was a hiss of gasses escaping their vents.
Zip-zip-zip! The multi-las made a rather odd sound for a heavy support weapon, and there was a yelp from the younger (but much, much larger) boy.
Cooling machinery smoked out their wrath at the boy, who had tumbled backwards in his attempt to avoid the attack. The sleeves of his jacket were thick enough to save him, but there was a cauterized scar on his left ear, and a nearby part of his hair was still smoking.
"Be thankful that it was on minimal strength!" The commander shouted up at him, before shouting some more at his crew.
The squeal of tank treads on polished wood ended the conversation as Vincent turned around.
"Cool, Land Raider."
Alice sighed. Totally insane. All of them.
She was curled up in her tight ball of transparent security, when a voice called out to her.
"Are you feeling alright, Gue'la?"
Alice flinched, turning to see a blue-armored warrior, with orange markings. Unlike the other races she had seen so far, the only decorations on its armor were simple painted strips, and the large, circular symbol on its massive left pauldron. Its helmet was marked with orange, and cracked on the left cheek, although it seemed to be mostly repaired. Save for the little sensory cluster on one side of the face, the rest of the helmet was a featureless, smooth surface.
The warrior, gun, helmet and armor, was no bigger than her two slim pinkies put together. The Tau soldier set aside its long pulse rifle as she looked at it, thoroughly confused. Alice took a few more moments to piece together coherent thoughts, apply them to her logic and suppress her disbelief, and then form a question.
"Ah... not familiar with Tau class system. 'Gue'la' is 'human'." The little warrior said, as similarly armored warriors loped over to look at the giant young woman. She felt like that gigantic girl from a recent movie.
"I see..." Alice mused, disbelieving that she was having an almost-casual conversation. Oh, and to buy more time for her brain so that it could get another question out. I hope I don't regret this. She thought.
"... and you are?"
"Shas'ui Fi'rios Yon'anuk Eldi'myr." The Fire-warrior recited, as if reading a label.
The syllables and apostrophes tumbled around inside the already traumatized brain of Alice O'Grady. The 'Shas'ui' and his squad mates looked up at her face, which had fallen into a blank expression of complete overload. Gears were metaphorically turning inside her brain, then hitting a metaphorical snag and metaphorically grinding themselves into a halt. Alice's eyes flickered slightly as she tried to process the information given to her.
I'm regretting this!
Desperate to keep up appearances, her mind managed to push and shove a single word to her mouth, where it then leaped off her tongue.
Even to her, it sounded awfully lame as it dropped. The single syllable picked itself up and limped away from the scene of the awkwardness.
There was a sigh from the short Tau soldier.
"In Gue'la language, I think it translates to 'Fire caste Team leader of the Fi'rios colony, the Hunter-Bird's Winged Knife'."
Alice blinked a few more times. Her brain had ground to a halt as she tried to understand the choppy English that was coming from the tiny warrior.
Another sigh echoed through the helmet of the short, blue-armored warrior.
"If easier, I can be called Sergeant Talon; the other Gue'la already call me that."
"Why didn't you say so in the first place?"
"Probably because he wanted to see your face when he said his name." His teammate chuckled, tapping a control panel on his left ear, and tossing a small chip – presumably something like a flashdrive – to the lead Fire Warrior. "I got it on combat recorders, Shas'ui."
The Sergeant eagerly slotted the data chip into his combat recorder, and began the playback, routing the others to the signal so that they could watch her face slowly transform from worried to utterly confounded. There were a few chuckles, others just began shaking in their armor and more still just howled like epileptic hyenas.
"H-hey!" Alice felt her cognitive functions return and flush her cheeks bright red, which only elicited another round of laughter from the Fire Warriors.
- - - - -
Prod. Prod. Someone was poking her toes. Alice grumbled, and shifted position. It was almost like her younger brothers trying to wake her up in the mornings, only with much more lethal prodding sticks.
"Forgive me, Gue'la..."
There was some frantic shuffling around as the Fire Warriors scurried about.
Shas'la Wu'bie elbowed his squad mate as Talon tried to attract the attentions of the giant Gue'la.
"How do we stop her from sulking in the corner?"
As Alice sulked, she could hear Vincent, who seemed like he had decided to relieve himself, and from the noises coming from the downstairs bathroom, he had also found out where the Eldar had been billeted. Screams of panic and the rumble of footsteps lasted for all of fifteen seconds before peace again took its place.
The assembled Tau and human girl looked from the corridor, where Vincent was profusely apologizing to the Eldar, to each other.
"... Uh..." Talon thought quickly and decided that some conversation might do the bewildered young woman some good.
"So... Gue'la... I'm curious about Gue'vesa'O Michael..."
Another confusing word. Alice hid her face as she pondered the meanings behind the word. Obviously this guy was either oblivious to his use of those words, or trying to get more pictures of her 'huh?' face. A lot of her friends had the same habit, so... yeah. She probably had an interesting confused face.
"Hmm? What's this Gue'seva... Oh... I got it wrong, didn't I?"
"Gue'vesa'O." The Sergeant patiently repeated. "It is much like Gue'la, but for someone of a much higher rank..." Talon explained.
Alice nodded her understanding, but also confusion: Michael wasn't any higher ranked than she was. The Tau seemed very wrapped up in their concepts of rank and one's place in society.
"I see... Michael's the same as us... I mean, Vincent and myself. We're just... mostly normal people."
"Oh? He is... normal?" The Tau around the Sergeant were also looking at each other. For them, Michael seemed to be a titanic figure of awe, and the source of red, cylindrical doom from above when one acted against his decrees of peace. Not anyone you'd consider 'normal'. Perspective was everything.
Talon posed another question.
"What caste is he?"
"... huh? What's this caste thing you guys have? You said Fire Caste earlier on... does that have something to do with that?"
"Correct, Gue'la. The Fire Caste is the... I suppose the equivalent to the Imperial Guard of you humans. The Fire Warriors of the Fire Caste – the Shas - protect the other three castes, we are their warriors and their guardians. We are there to step in if and when others are too blind to listen to the Water Caste – the Por - our diplomats and merchants. Everyone is watched over by the Air Caste – the Kor - our pilots and ship-crews. All of our tools – for war, commerce and transport – come from the Earth Caste – the Fio. They are builders and scientists, they develop new technologies to further Tau'va."
"Tau... va?" Oh goodness, this was starting to feel like a Wiki Walk.
"The Greater Good." Talon translated solemnly. Heck, you could feel the capital 'g's in his words.
"... Do I really need to say it, Sergeant?"
"Your face speaks for itself, Gue'la. No 'huh' is needed." Talon chuckled.
"The Tau'va – the 'Greater Good' – is the philosophy which drives the Tau Empire, from a lowly line trooper like me to the greatest of the Ethereals." Talon seemed as if he were reciting something. "The concept of this philosophy, Gue'la, is that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, the individual." To emphasize this, he pointed first at himself, then spread his arms to encompass his squadmates in his broad gesture.
"We all strive for the betterment of the Tau as a whole, and for that we have come all the further."
"From the end of the Mont'au... the Age of Death, of civil war... the Tau have embraced this concept, thanks to the guidance of our beloved Ethereal Caste, and it has driven us forward into the Age of Expansion, the age of the Tau united."
"This philosophy is not exclusive for Tau alone. Anyone can become a part of the Greater Good without penalty, so long as they are willing." His partner added, pointing at Alice. "No matter what you may have done, if you embrace the Greater Good, we shall not refuse you."
"Of course, if you refuse the Greater Good..." The pulse rifle was hefted onto a shoulder. "... that is why we have Fire Warriors."
Alice looked on in awe. The concept of the Greater Good... it was simply one that was past human ideology... past human naivete, if she were to know the people that she had seen in the streets and in her own school.
"Well... that's great. But... what caste would I fit into?"
"That would depend on your talents, Gue'la. Michael would most definitely fit into the Fire Caste, although the fact that he uses a Fire Extinguisher would make the philosophers rather worried." Talon chuckled.
- - - - -
The human – a 'Guardsman' as Alice recognized – walked up to the Tau squad. He wasn't alone, there were maybe a large group of the humans approaching. However, two peeled off from the main group, who were telling the Tau that they had been put here as overwatch for Michael and his little mind-experiment.
The leader of the two – it was obvious that he was the more confident one - was dressed almost typically for any human soldier in history; on his head, he wore a rounded green helmet with a winged skull engraved onto the forehead panel. His breastplate had a similar marking, as well as '918' emblazoned in white numbers on the subdued green armor. Under the rugged plating was what appeared to be a dirt-brown overall, well kept and with a multitude of pockets. He had numerous pouches hanging off his waist and heavy-set boots. Between belt and boots were a pair of rugged pants and armored kneepads, by the looks of them worn and chipped.
The man appeared as if to be about thirty-ish, comfortable with the company about him.
"Greetings, Gue'vesa'la." Sergeant Talon turned to face the newcomers.
"Shas'ui Talon. For the fourth time; its Sohm. Or Trooper Vekt, if you must have my official designation." The man chuckled, extending an arm. Talon and the two humans shared a knowing smile, and it seemed like the usual routine for them to act like that, a routine for the three warriors. Well, it was a safe bet: All three held a weapon of some kind.
"Of course, Trooper Vekt." The two soldiers grasped each other's forearms in a bizarre variation of a handshake, and released at the same time to give each other a quick, friendly punch on the shoulders. Talon, being rather shorter and of a lighter build, staggered at the man's blow. But this seemed all in good fun, so he simply laughed it off. Turning to the fairer of the two, he executed a short bow.
"And greetings to you too, Gue'vesa'ui."
"Please, Sister Meliya will do just fine, Shas'ui."
Beside the human soldier was a woman, of the same height. However, her armor was much more intricate, looking more like a medieval knight's plate armor than his 'soldier' look: interlocking plates of black-painted and gold-trimmed armor covered her entire body. Instead of disguising her gender, however, the armored plates seemed to enhance the more feminine features, and there was more emphasis on decoration than the Guardsman beside her: her pauldrons were fixed with red fabric sleeves, which covered her arms up to the wrist. They were stained with various inks, and judging by the way they were done, it was devotional prayers that covered her arms. A large book sat on her left hip, and many small chains wrapped around her waist and looped through her armor, supporting many more trinkets – a stylized pillar, a gold human skull, a double headed eagle and a fleur-de-lis – which occasionally bumped against the parchment-and-wax seals, also covered in prayers to her deity.
"As the Guardsman Lieutenant has said: We are simply here to ensure that the Eldar do not try to escape, if they try anything malicious to Michael."
Alice's thoughts were again broken by the woman's soft voice. Her white hair wasn't an indicator of age: her voice was that of a young woman, maybe just past her late-twenties in age.
"Very well, Sister Meliya. It is pleasant to see you two again."
"Uhm... Nice to meet you?" Alice ventured, looking over her knees down at the three miniature soldiers. The three almost jumped in surprise: What the hell were they up to, forgetting about the hundred-meter tall giant sitting right next to them!?
Meliya and Sohm looked up, with the latter smiling and giving Alice a wave as the former kept herself at a simple bow. They were used to giant humans, with Michael running around and all that. Alice looked on as the two gave their salutations.
"I'm Trooper Somh Vekt of Cadian Nine-eighteenth, pleasure to meet you, miss."
"Sister Meliya, of the Order of Our Martyred Lady. The same for me... uh..."
"Alice. Alice O'Grady." She responded. "Well... its a pleasure as well..."
Pleasantries aside (it seems like 38000 years did little to mar simple greetings, no matter how awkward), the assembled troopers soon got into camp, the Imperial Guardsmen – Cadians, it seemed – setting up their equipment and pointing them mostly at the coffee table.
A few minutes passed in awkward silence; Talon was either unwilling to continue his explanation of Tau society, or unable to because of the fact that Alice was now looking at the new arrivals, who had a much more familiar look to them, and therefore more pull.
"Ah... sorry about earlier." One of the men loading a rocket into a launcher-tube shouted up at Alice.
"... could you explain?"
"I was part of the heavy weapons team that pointed this..." He gave his rocket launcher a pat. "... at you. We fired the warning rocket, too."
"At Vincent's face?"
An awkward silence filled the air as the Cadian Guardsmen looked from one to the other.
"Yeah... a warning shot, right?" The man shifted nervously from one foot to the other, a 'krak' rocket still in his hands "He did dodge it, didn't he?"
"My apologies." It seemed like the only words that could save him from the look of pure, refined, feminine wrath that was being directed at him. Finally, Alice had found something to torture, something to focus her malice on. And then there was laughter.
A Sister of Battle, armored much like Sister Meliya but with far more decorations (if that were possible) and wielding a pair of flamethrower-pistols, stepped forward. She looked up at Alice while grinning, a 'just between us girls' kind of grin. Alice returned the gesture in a more subdued manner, and waved back.
"Uh... hello? You are..."
"Sister Herja, its 'Hey-er-ja'. Its good to see you." There was some looking up and down of Alice's appearances. Herja's grin grew wider. "Very good to see you. Alice, was it not?"
The brown haired girl smiled back nervously and nodded. The Sister had a very superior mood about her, and it seemed like she had really enjoyed seeing the Guardsman sweat under Alice's frown. From that, and having known Michael's aunt and the older woman's circle of friends, Alice could immediately label Sister Herja as a feminist. Who carried around a flamethrower on either hip.
"Good to see you too, sister." Assuming a more subdued, easygoing persona, Sister Herja rested her hands on her hips. "So very good..." Her grinning eyes disconcerted Alice, and the Guardsmen too, since now those troopers were busy inspecting the bottom of their canteens.
Alice sighed, and sat her head back, looking at the charred and battle-scarred ceiling. Certainly, Michael knew how to get people to redecorate. She turned to look at the Sisters of Battle, looking from one battle-worn face to another. They were strong. They were interesting. Alice found the one that had greeted the Tau earlier: Meliya, wasn't it?
"So... Sister Meliya? Do you mind telling me about yourself?"
"O-of course... where should I start?"
- - - - -
As they relaxed, the Guardsmen began to do what all social men did when they saw one of their number with a woman.
Sohm was jolted out of his caffeine high by an elbow to his ribs. Beside him was a Guardsman, and Alice listened intently as she heard his hushed tones.
"So... eh, Sohm. You and that Sage-girl were out pretty late last night."
More heads turned. Guardsmen began to come along closer. This was going to be interesting.
Sohm gave an exaggerated sigh. He looked up at his fellow Guardsman. Idiots, one look from a girl, one night spent poring over communiques intercepted by their vox and... well, half the regiment wanted to know if a Guardsman had managed to get a Sister to 'loosen their rosarius'.
"No, Web. We were processing this transmission... it was a flatvid, comedy entertainment. Yellow skinned caricatures."
"How about other kinds of entertainment, Sohm? By the Throne, you spend a lot of time alone with that girl. And she ain't no flatvid, either."
In the background, there was the revving of chainswords and yet another yelp from Vincent.
"What the hell... a rat!?"
The Guardsmen's interest lasted only as long as the commotion went on, which ended in the Space Marine Chaplain's cry of anguish as the rat was hoisted into the air.
"With all due respect, Chaplain Morteus, Michael would not want a rat's head nailed to the wall!"
"Why does 'With all due respect' sound like 'frak you', Vincent?"
Alice couldn't help but snort as she overheard that. A very unladylike gesture, sure, but one of amusement nonetheless.
"Because the rat's head is going to stink, that's why!"
- - - - -
Well, I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter. As always, reviews and critique will be most appreciated, and if anyone can point out any errors that I've made, please do. I'm still open to provide cameos for characters – Captain Apollo, I'll be posting yours in sometime soon – if you guys give me a critique.
Soon, we'll be getting into the meat of the Chaos Rising arc, so we'll be finding out what happened to lil' miss Cultist Chan soon enough. I'll try and keep it lulzy if appropriate, especially with Vincent's lack of common sense when in the presence of the Warhammer 40,000 world.
Well, until then!