They were in training when they reached Oertha. The change from empyrean to reality was marked by Vox landing in the middle of the small-scale battle, 3rd was enacted under her. With the steady, slightly sorrowful brusqueness that had become so typical for her, she ordered Titus and Celeste to follow her to the bridge.
When they arrived, the date check and orientation had already gone through and contact with 2nd company had been established. The sisters were fighting on the surface and reports on their status were flowing in steadily.
It turned out that they were only three days out and Nostromo mentioned uncomfortably that he had not meant to land this close. Apparently, some ominous disturbance had pulled them in.
The smaller moon of Oertha had already attracted Vox’s attention during their planning. This close, she could tell them what was special about it: “This moon is a weight in the warp.” She flexed her wings slowly and stepped up to the bannister of the captain’s platform. “It must be rich in warp crystals”, she estimated.
“But this has never been the case!”, Nostromo argued as he hovered left and right excitedly. “I have been to Oertha several times including the time we found the ‘Ghost’ and something like this has never happened!”
Vox looked uncertainly at Titus. In the shortness of time, he resorted to taking his gauntlet off unobtrusively. Gently laying their hands side by side on the bannister enabled them to exchange a few relevant images of what had happened on the Warp Space Hulk.
“The moon must have been the reason why we dropped out so close to Oertha”, she estimated when he had lent her his memories of this. “But I think it was dormant then. Just an anchor we could make use of”, she mused. “Now, it has been awoken.”
“By what?”, Celeste wanted to know.
“Certainly by the Tau”, Vox said.
“But Tau never do anything with the warp”, Nostromo insisted. “They hardly throw a shadow.”
“They have assimilated creatures who do”, Celeste pointed out.
Vox thought for a moment. The very slight glowing of her wings betrayed that she was reaching into the future.
“I can’t see anything”, she said with a frown. “The moon distorts the times.” Vox shook her head as if to dislodge unpleasant sensations. “Have we established contact with the Deathwatch yet?”, she wanted to know
“No, my Lady”, Captain Anjella, captain of the ‘Primarch’s Bride’ let her know. The woman stood to stoic attention close by and had remained silent so far.
“But with the fleet of Destiny”, Nostromo provided. “They are en route to meet us and can provide us with contact to Captain Pervalis.”
Titus whispered a few words into Vox’s ear to make sure she knew that she had known the captain personally. The tired way her hand slid over his upper arm told him that she had needed this information.
Trying to sink in her fleeting gaze, he wished he could provide more help. He knew that Akklain Pervalis belonged to the Red Consuls, a successor chapter of the Ultramarines. In the pict transmission he had seen, the man had seemed a stoic, conscientious person but he was far from certain how he would react if an entire war fleet appeared in his sky.
As it turned out, his reaction was forestalled. The Deathwatch had already taken action against Space Marines of an unknown chapter. The hostilities had only ceased when the Wings of War had received the general order to abort all encounters with non-chaotic Space Marines.
The subsequent negotiations were a little difficult. It remained uncertain whether the wings and Vox’s revealed gender helped or hindered the arrangement but in the end, Pervalis proved an intelligent man. He had grudgingly ascertained that the company rampaging around his fortress was primarily fighting Tau and that his handful of brothers stood no chance against them in any case. When the superiors of said Space Marines not only offered help with the xenos but also promised to draw their troops off planet afterwards and asked nothing in return apart from not being shot in the back, he was ready to agree to their terms.
There was a very distinct atmosphere in the ship during the two days they still needed to reach Oertha’s orbit. It was as if the beast in all of them gave a lazy yawn and bared its teeth. The fight was imminent. All that was left was to plan for the exact deployment.
On the last day before they came in reachVox gathered her council of war. The group included Titus, Celeste, Saphane, Corven, Nostromo, Captain Avjeri Anjella, captain of the ‘Primarch’s Bride’ and Grand Admiral Watris Starling, commander of the fleet of the Wings of War. The last two were both human. The proud and accomplished warriors were generally treated with respect among the Astartes. Their demeanour in turn made clear that they firmly understood their station and duties.
Lacking holographic projectors, the briefing chamber on the bridge was instead blessed with a stereopticon that cast two-dimensional images onto the desk. As they gathered, it showed a map of the area around the Deathwatch fortress.
“Comrades”, Vox greeted them. “Our objective on Oertha is simple: The total annihilation of the Tau in this quadrant. I want none of the xenos escaping into open space when we put the pressure on. Admiral?”
“My lady!”, admiral Starling replied with a curt nod. “We have established contact to second fleet and will coordinate the direct assault on the vessels in orbit as soon as we get in reach. Our comrades are driving the ships of the xenos towards us as we speak. They will see through this soon but our ships already are taking up interception formations. The Fleet of Destiny has agreed to support us in this endeavour and we are providing crew for their ships as we speak.”
“Thanks to the endeavours of Aegis, we were able to reclaim forty-three ships from the ‘Ghost’ so far”, Nostromo said casually. His organic eyes sparkled. “But only now, can we put them to use properly. We have concentrated on the smaller ships but if we finally find enough human personnel, we might even be able to retrieve the ‘Anima Profundis’. I’m sure, Erioch will be very pleased to get its flagship back.”
Vox shot Titus a questioning glance but all he could do was to nod for her to go on. He’d have to explain this later.
“So much for the fleet”, she decided to push on after this silent exchange. “Third will support second on the ground”, she stated. “Celeste?”
The chapter mistress nodded her understanding and took over: “Oertha has frequent trouble with the Tau. I sent second here a while ago to deal with another detachment of them and it was a coincidence that they were still there when these started to make trouble. It appears that the Tau formally were attacking the Deathwatch fortress.” She pointed to the map visible on the desk. “It is built into the southern mountain range and hard to access. The Tau are currently dug in to the north-east of it, while second company has assailed them from the west.” Celeste’s gauntleted fingers tapped the markers on the desk while she talked. “The three parties have fought themselves to a standstill. As soon as we have a sufficient breach in orbit to get troops through, we’ll set down third to the north and fall into the flank of the xenos. If the truce with the Deathwatch holds, second will be able to move in as soon as this starts.” Celeste looked up at Vox to signal that she was done.
“The Tau are not only active on the surface”, the angel continued. “They have sent a detachment to the smaller moon. Our records show that the mining endeavours were taken up several centuries ago and dropped less than a decade later.”
“Must have been like digging through hell”, Corven grumbled from the background and drew a few short glances and even shorter nods.
“I don’t know what the Tau want there”, Vox continued meanwhile. “But we have to be prepared for anything. The activity on the surface might be merely a distraction to cover their true purpose there.”
“Can’t we blow the moon to bits?”, Celeste suggested. “Oertha has no overly large oceans and infrastructure is widespread. Tides and tidal waves should stay within a limit and even large pieces of the moon wouldn’t destroy too much of the industry.”
“No”, Vox replied steadily. “The effects of the crystals are too unpredictable. To such an extent in fact that I can’t foretell anything about the moon. I will take Titus and Corven to investigate and I need you prepared for all eventualities. The ‘Primarch’s Bride’ will stand by to destroy the moon if necessary. Organise enough ships to extract our troops, including the Deathwatch.”
“In what time frame, my lady?”, admiral Starling inquired politely.
Vox thought for a moment. “Destruction ten, extraction twenty, begin exterminatus sixty minutes.”
“This will hardly be enough for you to leave the surface of the moon”, the admiral pointed out.
“I expect vox interference on the surface”, Vox let them know curtly. “We’ll be well away when we call you in.”
“What about Aegis and Gladius?”, Celeste asked into the ensuing pause.
“They’re going with you”, Vox decided. “I don’t want too many people on that moon.”
“If escaping from the surface in a hurry might be required, let’s take the ‘Cornix’ and have Tiberius pilot it”, Titus suggested. A quick glance between him and Nostromo settled the availability of the ship.
“Yes”, Vox confirmed. “And his guide for a gunner.”
Titus had Luriel’s name on the tip of his tongue and bit it back at the last moment. It was bad enough that she had not memorised the sister’s name after spending hours in her company. Pointing it out in the present company was out of the question.
“Take the rest down with you”, Vox ruled meanwhile. “And someone prepare the Deathwatch for what might be coming.”
“Understood”, Captain Anjella made herself heard.
“What’s the time?”, Vox wanted to know.
“We are five hours out from high orbit, my lady”, Admiral Starling informed her.
“Good. Carry on.”
With this, Vox ended the meeting.