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"Reverend One, are you monitoring channel 2?"
 Shas'vre Tam'ya's voice was loud in her vox-bead, and she put a hand to her belt to turn down the feed. The back of the dropship smelled like acid waste, probably because there were more than twenty sick Shas recruits fresh out from Aachen puking up their xeno guts in the back end.
 "No, Shas'El. I am not monitoring channel 2." She tried to sound patient; Tam'ya was such a blue-flamer that he was always eager and never tired. She, on the other hand, had had just four hours sleep in the last two days; her bio-rhythms still refused to accept the short Taurota, her period was coming on early, and she was busy nurse-maiding recruits. She bit down on the temptation to say I'm a baby sitter, not a tactical commander. It was close, though. It almost came out through her teeth.
 She swivelled her command chair back to the console and reached past the air-caste pilot to press alien numerals on the digital controls for the comms. What the feth is channel 2?
 "-multiple units detected bearing 175 from our picket position."
 She looked at the digital display, spelling through the alien glyphs, mouthing the xeno words. The fourteens? The red fourteens? Who the hell are the red fourteens? She thought through all the space marine chapters with detachments on Beltagor's Deep.
 "Ma'am?" Sergeant-no, Shas'ui Fraysher, one of her own humans that she'd recruited back in Aachen. He pushed through the hatch, bringing with him the turpentine waft of sick Tau. She gave him a tired smile. "Shas'ui?" she asked.
 "The Shas'ui'o," he jerked a thumb over his shoulder, aft, "wants to know if the air-recyclers are on full."
 The tired smile crept a millimeter wider. "Tell the good Shas'ui'o-," she began, and the vox-feed in her ear caught her attention.
 "-full Cohort. I say again, enemy is in full cohort strength advancing along 175 axis towards Waypoint 17. Grid coordinates to follow. Request immediate fire support this position, over."
 Another voice, the deep bass of a Space Marine, cut in. "Clarify, Red Picket Six. You are calling fire on your own position, over?"
"Affirmative." Lots of genuine human emotion in that voice. And deep in Inquisitor Persson's brain, something went click.
Tau numbers are base eight. That's the Twelvers' combat channel. Twelver scouts calling the Twelvers' firebase.
 The bass voice said "On the way. The Emperor stand with you, brother. Break, break. General alarm, sector five. Cohort strength intrusion. Respond."
 Persson found that she had to will her shoulders to relax. She was leaning forward, as if the effort of her muscles could force a Twelver unit to respond. Those scouts; two, ten, twenty-they were going to die on the icy sand, calling in friendly fire on their own position.
"You copying this, Reverend One?" Tam'ya sounded more keyed up than usual. He regarded the Twelvers as his bond group. It made him seem curiously-human. Six months as allies fighting the ruinous powers-and the Tau were curiously easy to like. Except when they were sick.
"Roger, Shas'vre." She wiped her puffy eyes with the back of her hand. "You want to go rescue them with the kindergarden?"
"Yes," he responded, cheerfully. "It is Tau'va."
 Inquisitor Persson stood on a flat stretch of sand no different from the other endless, rock strewn stretches of red sand that comprised the planets sole terrain feature and peered through her ornate helmet's sensor augmentations at the sandstorm that blew through the night. More accurately, she looked at thelack of sensor input from anywhere in the spectrum. The sand was so heavy in metals that sandstorms blinded every instrument the Tau and the Imperium could create, right across the E-M spectrum.
 In front of her, a squad of nervous Tau recruits shuffled and swayed in the wind. Their Shas'ui, a 'veteran' of one campaign in Aachen, had formed them shoulder-to-shoulder in a firing line. He looked back at her apologetically and murmured on the command frequency, "It's all they know, Reverend One."
 Persson grunted. She wasn't even a 'real' Aun Caste Member, although one of their scientists had performed a genetic inclusion that he promised would cause the same effect.Pigs might fly, too.
 Off to her right, somewhere in the storm were her own human troops, a handful of the faithful who had stayed with her through her exile and all the lonely searching. Fraysher would have his men in cover, she thought. Maybe the only creatures in her force with enough training to take cover.
 Off to the left, another squad of recruits stood shoulder to shoulder, buffeted by the wind. Beyond them, invisible again, was Tam'ya, their lone battle suit, with a horde of improvised drones.
 She had a squad of pathfinders; tough, regular troops; the best she had besides her retinue. She'd thrown them into an abandoned mine building to keep them alive as long as possible. And of course Tam'ya's old squad, veterans of Aachen and Hibernia and a month of this. They didn't have much time for her, but Tam'ya had brought them to be Op forces for training. They were in a Devilfish, securing her left flank. Her right was held by her other transport, the one that the Pathfinders deployed in. It was empty. It was there as more of a threat than a promise. In the wind-shadow of its hull, a pack of Kroot made chitonous noises with their beaks. One of them was smoking a ceejar. Even in the chill wind, she could smell the awful thing. That would be Fraysher's doing.Behind her, anchored to the thin soil, towered a pair of Broadside suits from her command Orca. They, too, hand been brought for training.
 Her most important unit was the Hammerhead that hovered on thrusters just a few meters to her left. It was a gift from the Emperor, a sign that she was not lost; a damaged vehicle fresh from repair and on it's way overland to re-enforce the Tau armour at Waypoint 17-pure luck that it was here. She plugged the jack from her power armour into a comm plate on the hull.
 "Report," she said in Tau.
 "Reverend One, satellite has lost track on the enemy north of here over the ridge. Metro reports that we are on the edge of the sandstorm. It won't-," his voice was overlaid by Tam'ya's.
 "Contact front."
 "Tau'va!" said a high voice on her command frequency. Her ocular sensors could see something-suits, marines, big marines, warped marines-
 Her whole line erupted in undisciplined fire. The sand particles in the air ignited when the discharges from the pulse rifles burned past, showing her a fireworks display of unaimed fire.
 "Cease fire!" roared Tam'ya. "Stand your ground, Shas! Shas'ui, mark your targets."
 A swirl of wind-born sand and darkness covered the front. The firing ceased. In front of her, a young shas stumbled back to collide with her armoured knee. He started, turned, and she raised her faceplate. The recruit stiffened.
 "I'l n'ya ke Tau'va," she said.There are many ways to gain Tau'va.
 He faced to the front and took a step forward, back to his firing position. She went back to peering through the busy gloom. Something-nothing.  And there they were; three enormous, deformed creatures like Crisis suits with cancer. Obliterators.
 Faster than thought, the two Broadside suits behind her discharged. The heavy tungsten alloy rounds left white-hot streaks in the sandstorm, so that for the blink of a sensor, two pure white lines connected her broadside suits to the abominations opposite. One blew to pieces; the other was decapitated. Inquisitor Persson, who had crossed the stars to find a traitor and walked in the dark among an alien race for her faith, found that she was cheering with her xeno recruits.
 The enemy had a wadi in front of them, invisible in the murk. She hadn't seen it, either; it didn't represent any kind of master plan, but as the storm howled around them, it became clearer and clearer that the enemy was having trouble climbing through the gully despite their power armor and ten thousand years of practice. On her left, Tam'ya was firing ceaselessly; his plasma guns a continuous stream of red heat. Every shot tore apart another enemy. It was chilling to watch, his cheerful precision, and the fact that he could do it while issuing orders made him seem more like a Marine than any alien she had ever met.
 On her right, the empty devilfish skirmished with a handful of black armored marines who had crossed the gully farther up and threatened her flank. Even as she watched the outline of the Devilfish in the gloom, her special sense screamed at her that something was disgorging from the warp.
 Fifty meters to her right, a winged abomination climbed into reality and threw itself on one of the Kroot, tearing the creatures' head clear of its body with most of the spinal cord intact. It used its grotesque trophy as a weapon, beating a second Kroot to the ground. The Shaper, Groshsnack, raised his rifle and gave a long scream, more like the cry of a falcon then plea of terror. More abominations poured through the black-light edged gap in reality, but the Kroot responded with their own savagery.
 Shas'ui Ka'os N'G'yen Vral was a veteran of twenty fights; a severed leg had moved him from command of a Pathfinder squad to the less prestigious job of commanding a Pathfinder Devilfish. Alone on the extreme flank f the Gue'la Aun's patchwork cadre, he used his craft like an artist, dancing in and out of cover, firing steadily to keep the Kyos M'u reens from folding the flank. His situational awareness was superb and his own ears caught the keen shriek of the Shaper's call to battle before his map-board registered the threat, and in an instant he saw the crisis; the warp spawn in his rear would clear away his infantry support and then the Kyos M'u reens would emerge from their cover and take his vehicle down.
 And the flank would fold. And his comrades in the Pathfinders would all be killed.
 He toggled his hatch closure mechanism, ducked down out of the sand, placed the turret burst cannon to "Computer control" and drove his vehicle up, up, over the rock in front of him and straight down onto the muhreens, intending to sell his life dearly, perhaps catch them in the detonation of his fusion engine.
 "Time to die," he said to his AI.
Only if you jump out and let me run you over, little brother. AIs tended toward sarcasm, even little ones. But the AI had already seen it-the muhreens didn't stand, or hurl grenades. They broke and ran. Ka'os N'G'yen Vral gave a very human sounding whoop. Then he started hunting muhreens.
 Fraysher grabbed his only recruit, a city kid from Secondus on Hibernia they all called "Dopey," and shoved him away from the cover of the mining post and out into the wind where the Kroot were gradually losing to the demons. The kid was gibbering.
 "We'll-they'll-I," he sputtered.
 Fraysher dragged him along as the team moved low across the sand. They were, by the luck of the tide of war, behind the demons. Fraysher pulled them to a stop behind a towering menhir worn smooth by the endless sand.
 "Dopey, when I say go, you go. Kill one, or die trying. You hear me?" Fraysher gave him a shake and looked at his little band. "Us or them, boys and girls."
 "Let's rock," said Sheeli. She already had that look, the look that put her in the Guard and then the penal legion, and then here. She drew a short sword from her belt. Most of the other troops used axes.
 "Charge," said Fraysher. Dopey rose from cover and bolted-straight at the demons. He ran through the sand without shooting; indeed, he had left his weapon propped on the rock. He leapt onto the back of the nearest abomination, screaming incoherently. A Kroot decapitated the winged thing with the butt spike on its rifle and screamed.
 Fraysher fired three times into another one at a range of six inches; it wasn't sporting, since he shot it in the back, but it was effective. After it fell, he carefully blew its head off as he stepped over it.
 "You can't be too sure," he said, to no one in particular.
 In the blink of an eye, Inquisitor Persson's battle-her first as a commander-was lost and won. Lost when the warp spawn poured into her flank with the Chaos Marines following behind. Won when the Devilfish and the Kroot and her own humans staggered her by destroying all of their opponents. Her threatened flank was now her secure flank; her pathfinders, unaware they had ever been threatened, poured marker lights into the Traitor vehicles across the gully, and her heavy units delivered shot after shot along the scarlet threads those marker lights left in the sandy dark. Even as she turned to look to her front, the enemy Predator showed, low and menacing, for a moment as a flaw took the wind, and in that second four marker lights glowed and it was struck repeatedly in the side by missiles from the other Devilfish. Its engine compartment ignited in a rush of demoniacally enhanced ichor and promethium, and the roar of its death dwarfed the wind and engulfed the twisted terminators nearest to it.
 She knew she had won when the suits behind her started wagering on tricky shots.
 In front of her, the line of recruits stood steady. The squad on the left fired a volley, punching down traitors caught in the gully. Each squad fired in turn, as if on an exercise, until every traitor visible lay in the sand.
 "And all your yesterdays lit the fools to dusty death," she said with relish.
 When the enemy commander requested terms and asked leave to collect his dead, a convention so ancient that no one but a scholar-inquisitor would be expected to know it or honor it, she agreed.
onginius himself. "Someday," she said aloud, "I'll tell the Lords of Terra that I planned it this way."
 Perhaps the Emperor had her in his hand. Certainly, she was about to talk to the renegade she had crossed half a galaxy to meet, under circumstances that appeared as natural as they could between his abhorrent kind and hers. She smiled, weariness forgotten. The Emperor protects. Sometimes, he even helps with planning. Then Fraysher emerged from the sand and smoke to give her the butcher's bill.
  Grinopey's eyes lost their glazed look after a few minutes. He returned to the present to find his Shas'ui sharing a smoke with the Xeno 'Shaper' and the dumpy Tau with the metal leg. That made him uncomfortable.
 Sheeli squatted down by him, grabbed his chin and kissed him. "You're okay, Grabber," she said, and pinched his cheek. He'd have been more excited if her hands hadn't been slicked with blood and worse. She stank and she was crazy,but she hadn't called him Dopey.
 The Shaper said something vehement, waved his arms, and pointed at him. Fraysher choked, coughed, and fell to the ground laughing.
 "What'd he say?" asked the newly christened recruit. He was about to ask again when he felt the silence and looked around to find the Inquisitor standing on his other side, her cloak billowing in the ever-present wind over her ruin-encrusted bronze and gold armor..
 Fraysher just kept laughing. He waved a hand feebly and muttered something about "Post combat stress."
 Persson knelt by her youngest human recruit. "He said you were brave and honorable," she said with a fixed smile. When the former Dopey looked in her eyes, he felt a longing for everything good and true sweep through him, a desire to die for her. He gazed at her adoringly.
 She turned away. It would be harder to spend them like water if she loved them. And she would. Because the End Justifies the Means.
 Fraysher got to his knees. "Yeah, Grabber, that's what he meant. But what he said was-I could eat that!"
The Orca was on final for the Tau GSU Indignant Virtue when Tess'en came up on comm. "I hear you had quite a time with Tam'ya and the boys, Aun'ui. How are my recruits?"
 Persson chuckled. "No recruits here, Eminence. Only veterans."

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