Author's Note: I don't own the Warhammer40k universe. Games Workshop owns that. Please don't sue me. They already take enough of my money.
The Enemy of My Enemy
Guardsman Miguel Olart looked up into the rainy night sky where not a single star could be seen. The storm clouds were too thick, smothering whatever comforting light that might have come from the heavens. Perhaps it was for the best. It would be one less reminder of just how badly they had fallen. It was so different from the way things were that morning. The sun had been bright. He heard the tech priests chanting in binary from the manufactorums, awakening the machine spirits for the start of another day. Workers left to go to the production lines while he and the other guardsmen marched in rank and file, made sure their kits were in order and prepared for what should have been just another ordinary day on Deimos III.
So much changed before the sun set, the skies turned gray and the dark clouds started to pour with rain. And with the rain came the Tau showering pulse fire and missiles, rail shot and the worst of damnable tech-sorcerery.
Deimos III had the misfortune of being in the vicinity of the Perdus Rift and right in the path of the Tau's so called "Third Sphere Expansion." The morning began with the praises to the Emperor but before noon came they were already crying the hymns of deliverance. The noise of workers milling about on their assigned duties became the cacophony that was war. Their enemies came in overwhelming force. None of the Imperium's auspexs had been able to give them advance warning and while countless astropaths had relayed their cries for help and warning into the warp, it was unlikely any nearby Imperial forces would be able to respond in time.
The alien tech was more than they could stand in such a surprise assault. Miguel and his squad were given the orders to move to the perimeter of the base and hold their positions no matter the costs. Tau warriors, clothed in unholy magics that made them invisible, stalked around them and cut them down with automatic pulse weapons, raining orbs of incinerating blue faster than guardsmen's lasguns could shoot. Their sturdy Chimeras, their intrepid Sentinel walkers and their beloved Lehman Russ tanks stopped dead in their tracks when holes instantly materialized in their hulls followed by a conical shower of a bloody mist; the remains of the crew exiting with the decompressing force of the rail shot on its exit puncture. They couldn't know if that was the more merciful way to go or if it was when the hypersonic round found the engine or ammo reserves and set the whole machine into a fireball. No matter what happened, they lost the battle faster than they could register that they were being attacked.
And so Guardsman Miguel stood outside in the rain with what remained of his squad. Their faces were drawn and confused as they tried to avoid the close presence and scrutiny of the firewarriors and the hovering war vehicles that flanked them on both sides, keeping them under escort. That morning he was just another guardsman raised from the Planetary Defense Force waiting to be drawn into the tithes of the Imperial Guard. And now his soul was on the verge of damnation for they had seen no choice but to surrender. At least, that was what the planetary governor was calling for. If they laid down their arms the Tau promised they would keep their lives. When Miguel had heard that being transmitted over the vox caster, he was certain Commissar Dalhiem would have had none of it and would have pressed them to continue fighting to the bitter last. Better to die in service of the Emperor than to forfeit their souls in surrender.
But Commissar Dalhiem's torso had vaporized in a flash of blue fire five minutes prior to the announcement. A century and half of the Commissar's faithful and unflinching service to the god-emperor ended in an instant by a xeno's heretical tech magic. It was clear his death had kicked the fight out of the squad. They stopped firing, they listened to the vox caster calling for them to lay down their arms and their guns numbly began to fall from their hands as they hugged the earth and prayed for salvation. They somehow found themselves surrendering after that. The squad in front of them had more faith and refused, continuing the fight. A salvo of missiles wiped them out of existence.
In retrospect they should not have been surprised. Days earlier they had heard the Tau were making expansions in the region. Agrellan had fallen to a decisive hammerblow. The news was disheartening. Agrellan had been massively fortified and entrenched, stocked with the best that the Departmento Munitorum had been able to give. Despite being an agrarian world it was the main gateway from the Imperium and to the Perdus rift, leading to the Tau beyond. And yet it had fallen and now the xenos were here.
Gunther let out a grumbling moan right beside him. Miguel tried to keep from wincing despite knowing Gunther would never notice his discomfort, much less the unbelievable halitosis that was currently making Miguel grimace. Large, bulky and having substandard hygiene, Gunther had arms the size of ancient trees and his monstrous body mass was equal parts fat and muscle. Standing a little over two meters he had been the shortest ogryn assigned to Miguel's squad of what had originally been five. They were a surprise gift from the Munitorum. Deimos III had no indigenous population of ogryn but with the fall of Agrellan the commanders had to find places to off load the countless material and personnel that were originally earmarked to defend the strategic planet and try to plan for the advancing Tau. Miguel and the rest of the men were initially repelled by their abhuman comrades. They were dumb, simple minded and sometimes seemed more of a hassle than an asset. That all changed when they took up their defensive positions. Gunther and his fellows held the line and absorbed more punishment than any other human ever could. Their simple minded faith and bravery had been an inspiration on the battlefield.
And now only Gunther was left and that was because a concussive blast had knocked him unconscious just before the decision to surrender. That prevented him from ignoring the orders and charging blindly into the Tau ranks repeating the Commissar's oft quoted "Never surrender!"
"Uh...did we win?" Gunther asked in his usual simple, nearly child-like tone, coming out of the dazing effects of the blast despite being led on blindly by the instinct to march in formation.
"We didn't, Gunther. We surrendered." Miguel replied quietly, casting a nervous eye at the Tau soldiers who were practically swarming all around them, escorting them up the hill as the rain continued to pour rivulets of water off their armor and bodies.
"But...but I thought the Com'sar told us to, uh...never surrender." Gunther blurted and then looked around in darting movements as if fearing the wrath of the commissar.
"The commissar is dead."
"...But now won't the Emperor be mad with us?"
"I don't know, Gunther."
"Sh...shouldn't we be fightin um?" the abhuman grumbled, a hint of fury in his voice.
"No Gunther! Orders are orders." Miguel parroted, remembering that key phrase often placated the abhumans. The giant man looked confused for a moment but nodded with quiet acceptance, a well practiced routine that he and his fellow ogryn so often did. Taking orders they did not understand was just part of life.
They continued to walk through the darkness with only the scant lamp post to light the way. Miguel could also see the large, alien shapes of the Tau vehicles hovering and floating all around them while squads of their Firewarriors maintained their flanking escort positions on either side of them, their weapons drawn and never more than a millimeter away from use. Their machines spelled mysterious runes on their layouts, their visors glowed an eerie red in the night. He wondered where the xenos were leading them.
"Uh...why are they leading us to the ferbidden build'n?" Gunther slurred curiously.
Of course! That was why that shadowy shape on top of the hill seemed so familiar.
"I don't know." Miguel said quickly, trying to decipher the meaning of it.
Building 83 was on a lonely hill that overlooked the rest of the base they had been stationed at. A perimeter was always set around it and all of them had been warned not to venture too near lest they face suspicion if not being shot outright. No one knew who was running that building, much less what they were doing inside but it didn't matter if it was the Adeptus Mechanicus, the higher ranking Imperial Commanders or even the Inquistion. Whoever was up here were several levels of security higher than all of them and had authorization to lethally defend their project.
Apparently, the Tau hadn't been let in on that.
Originally, the only entrance through the ferrocrete perimeter guarding Building 83 was a heavily built gate. Their alien enemies had already blasted that away and the squad simply walked over its dented, smoking ruins. All around them their enemies were milling about in the courtyard, strange devices being held out and consulted while vehicles idly hovered, maintaining sentry positions. Agile and disc like drones of every variety floated and zipped about on personal errands. Other squads that had surrendered were also being led here as the Firewarriors with their long pulse rifles herded them into a different section away from the rest of their forces.
Gunther, Miguel and the 14 remaining men stood silently as the rain continued to pour down on them. Miguel couldn't help but shiver a bit as they waited. Lightning began to crack overhead providing eerie if brief glimpses at their surroundings. He was half tempted to clean and maintain his lasgun so the water wouldn't offend its machine spirit. The guardsman stopped with a pang of guilt when he remembered the Tau had forced them to leave their weapons back on the field.
"..It's dark and wet out here...I don't like it." Gunther complained quietly.
"Just wait, Gunther." Miguel hushed. He may not have cared for the Ogryn's personal hygiene, or lack thereof, but he couldn't help but feel a little solidarity with the giant. Both of them were simply serving the Imperium and neither knew what was going on anymore.
In the shadows cast by the lights of the surrounding Tau craft, Miguel spotted a small, lithe figure approaching them. Peering through the veil of night, he saw that it was a Tau. Recalling back to what he learned on his primer, Tau were usually shorter and weaker than the average human. This one's spindly frame, swathed in an expensive green robe, gave the impression of being more of a bundle of sticks than anything else.
"I'm looking for a commanding officer or anyone else in position of authority? Please? A sergeant perhaps? I promise this will be only for your benefit." the Tau asked softly but loudly enough for all to hear.
"Anyone? A person in authority?"
There was a long silence punctuated only by the symphony of the rain that never ceased to fall. The Tau, whose feminine voice never once rose to a note of harshness, continued to wait and look for a single hint of acknowledgement from among the group of men. Miguel would not have been surprised if not a single sergeant had made it. So far all he had seen in the near pitch black were just fellow guardsmen like himself, their squads and detachments reduced to mere handfuls of survivors.
"Please, if you do not help me, I cannot help you and I will not be able to guarantee your safety." the Tau pleaded, water rolling off the wide shade she wore.
Miguel looked over and noticed even more Tau soldiers arriving and these newcomers appeared to be a separate group than the ones they had just been fighting. Whereas their first opponents wore a solid, soft, brownish yellow for their armor, the new arrivals had deep blue flecked with black and dark gray. Camouflage. And they were arriving in larger numbers.
"Yes! Me! I'm a sergeant!" a gruff voice finally admitted loudly from Miguel's left. He recognized Sergeant Pierson's voice. Pierson was a bastard, a hard man and one Miguel never enjoyed a second with. Ogryn were at least sociable once you got past their foul odor and dim witted ways. Sergeant Pierson probably irritated his own mother.
"Thank you, Sergeant. Please step forward, but do so slowly and with your hands where my escorts can see them." the Tau gently admonished, suddenly flanked by two Tau soldiers who promptly shouldered their carbines and kept their eyes on the approaching sergeant, breaking ranks and stumbling up towards them.
"Sergeant, you may call me Por'la Sha'ra. I am here to make sure you and your men are kept safe and cared for. However, in order to guarantee that, we need some information regarding this building. What is it for?" the diplomat asked directly but gently. Miguel was surprised with how fluent she spoke vernacular Gothic, the language he and all the others spoke. There was a heavy accent but he had no difficulty understanding her.
"Warp take me if I knew." Sergeant Pierson snapped. Sha'ra blinked a few times, as if trying to discern exactly what that statement meant.
"So you don't know the purpose of this facility?" the alien pressed.
"No, I don't. It wasn't my responsibility. We weren't allowed near it and my quartermaster, Miguel Olart was the only one who set foot in it, and even then not long." Sergeant Pierson answered roughly, pushing rain out of his eyes.
"Is your Miguel Olart here?"
"Haven't seen him here in the dark, xeno."
"Please see if you can find him. My escorts will be keeping an eye on you for your safety." Sha'ra spoke, Miguel dared say it almost sound as if she was trying to be sweet. Truly the deception of these xenos knew no bounds.
"That dun't sound like thunder." Gunther announced. Miguel looked up at him quizzically before realizing that he could heard a very steady, rhythmic series of thumps echoing through the darkness. The increasing volume of those falls told him that whatever it was, it was getting closer.
Three glowing lights, analogous to eyes, suddenly appeared in the darkness while flashes of lightning and light ambivalence painted in shadows a very large and humanoid object, nearly as bulky as Gunther and only slightly taller. Miguel believed this was probably his first sighting of one of those Tau walkers he had heard so much about. A battlesuit.
Sha'ra turned around in surprise and gazed up at the massive war machine. The combat walker glared down and Miguel caught a glimpse of the unmistakable profile of two different guns attached to the machine, one on the left arm and the other mounted on its right shoulder. Addressing the Tau diplomat, the war machine spoke through its audio speakers, projecting a stern voice that growled through the xenos' native language. Sha'ra listened with a small smile despite the rain and darkness and nodded when the walker stopped talking. Miguel was not sure whether the thing was some unholy AI born of techno-sorcerery or if there was another Tau piloting the contraption within.
"My apologies, commander; but for the benefit of those in our custody, we must, if possible, speak in their language around them." Sha'ra insisted. Miguel was certain that if a machine could glare, that was what he was seeing. More stern words came from the machine.
"It should be no problem, commander. The proper translation programs should be installed onto your battlesuit."
The head of the battlesuit nodded in acknowledgement and then stomped off at the front of all the gathered captives. Caught in the glow of countless vehicle lights and roaming, scanning drones, the war machine radiated the title given to the one who piloted it. Every movement was sleek and with purpose, not like the clumsy, pondering movements of the Imperial Guard's sentinels that Miguel had spent so much time drilling alongside. The whole battlesuit was colored in a jet black and steel night camouflage save for the blue decor that highlighted the symbol of the Tau empire on the machine's shoulder as well as the blue visor on the machine's head from which strange orange runes were inscribed on.
"Who among you still detest us? Who among you wish to escape? Step forward!" the pilot boomed through the suit.
"Uh...why is he asking that?" Gunther mumbled softly while Miguel tried to hide his face. He could feel Sergeant Pierson approaching and he wanted nothing to do with the man nor whatever machinations the Tau were probably cooking up. It was treason to even collude with the xenos.
Several of the guardsmen defiantly stepped forward, pride and indignation steeling their spines as they gazed up at the machine. Miguel spotted about five of them through the dark while the others hesitated, unsure of what kind of trick the Tau may be plotting, if it was a trick at all.
The gun on the battlesuit's arm began to hum with the sound of the multiple chambers situated just behind the end of gun's muzzle starting to rotate. Before anyone could blink or react, a stream of brilliant white energy fired from the weapon and vaporized the men who had dared to show their defiance. All that remained of them were pieces of charred flesh, blackened bone and frayed rags of what had been their uniforms.
"Emperor watch over their souls." Miguel hissed, quickly but subtly making a sign of the Aquila in the air.
"I know how you humans work. I have fought against you and in dire times, I have fought alongside you. You may bow before the Greater Good of the Tau'va or you may die. Those are your options. We will not tolerate any disobedience or insubordination." the commander warned, letting those words sink in among them.
Here it was, they had not moved forward to find absolution in death. They had surrendered. They were all damned.
"I found him!" Sergeant Pierson hollered through the night. Miguel felt himself being shook from the shoulder and groaned silently to himself as the commanding officer continued to grapple him.
"Why are you doing this, Sergeant?" Miguel whispered harshly.
"You heard the xenos. They told me to look for you and so I did. If it gets them off my back then so be it." Pierson snarled through clenched teeth.
"You would make me a traitor?" Miguel murmured softly, a ball of icy lead in his stomach.
"Better you than me." the spiteful sergeant snapped as rivulets of water continued to fall off of them.
Two Firewarriors, still clutching their carbines, gently parted the few men that were in front of them. One took a moment to glance up at Gunther who stood patiently next to Miguel but then focused back on the task at hand. Both aliens motioned with their firearms for Miguel to step forward and to follow them.
Those few steps were some of the hardest in Miguel's life.
The Firewarriors led the hapless guardsman to the serene ambassador who insisted on standing in the rain with the slight smile still plastered on her surprisingly feminine face. Save for the blue pigmentation of her skin and the fact that instead of a nose there was a single crease running down between her eyes, it could have been the countenance of a human staring back at Miguel.
"Is it true? Have you had access to this building before? Tell me truthfully, guardsman." the Tau said in fluent gothic. Miguel sulked before her. One of the Firewarriors prodded him hard with the muzzle of his gun.
"Yes." Miguel blurted. Apparently, betraying the Emperor was surprisingly easy when it came down to it.
"Do you have access to open it now?" Sha'ra continued to ask as if it were a pleasant conversation between friends.
"No." Miguel replied with as much defiance as he could muster. It sounded pitiful in his own ears.
Miguel realized he had said enough. It probably wasn't betrayal if you didn't completely aide and abet the xeno. Steeling himself again and gathering whatever courage he could find within his chest, the guardsman took a deep breath and prepared for whatever should come. He nearly jumped when he felt the earth shake and watched the massive juggernaut that was the commander's crisis suit storming up to them.
"Are you the only human who has had access here?" the machine boomed through the speakers, the angry red lens on its "head" glaring down at him.
"Only the first floor." Miguel blurted out in fear. He inwardly kicked himself. He was glad the rained had thoroughly soaked him and his clothes. He wasn't sure if he had wet himself.
"Access enough. Come with me." the commander ordered.
From the back, Pierson had been watching with hateful glee. He had never liked Miguel. That man was too soft, too much of an Ecclesiarch's boy. It wouldn't have surprised him if the late commissar, Emperor spit upon him, would have easily executed him and put Miguel up as a replacement if it came down to it. Pierson had always resented that and even though the commissar was nothing more than a carcass, he wasn't about to let go of all that venom. There was another person in his squad that he also hated.
"Hey! Hey, Xenos!" the sergeant shouted. Without missing a beat, every Firewarrior in ear shot shouldered and aimed at the cause of the commotion. The other guardsmen in the squad flinched and did their best not to drop to the ground lest they risk further upsetting their captors.
"That man is an important part of my squad! I want my bodyguard to go with him!" Pierson lied on the spot and roughly prodded Gunther next to him. "After all, he deserves it!"
Miguel stared in disbelief. His sergeant's logic was flimsy at best. All the administrative duties and privileges Miguel had before were only temporary, granted only because he was deemed the most competent at the time and were forgotten and rescinded as soon as the job was complete.
"But...But sergeant...we musn't help the xenos." Gunther protested meekly.
"I'm not telling you to help the xenos. I'm telling you to help Miguel and he still helps the emperor. Don't question me, idiot!" Sergeant Pierson snapped venomously. Gunther apologized quickly and began to lumber forward towards Miguel.
Unknown to the ogryn, the Firewarriors began to draw their weapons but looked questioningly at their commander. For a moment Miguel was certain the ogryn was going to be shot to pieces until the head of the battlesuit made a single, curt nod and the Firewarriors lowered their weapons.
"...I don't think I can let you in anymore. I don't have access." Miguel muttered to the machine, doubting it would even hear him.
"Nonetheless, you are coming." the Tau stated from within his suit. Miguel watched arcs of electricity crackle around the blade mounted on the suit's wrist and in one movement, the battlesuit stepped forward and slammed its fist into the icon of the skull keeping its vigil on the giant door.