The Burden of Purpose

4/5 (3)

A storm raged against the walls of the yurt like a titanic battle was taking place in low orbit. Each rumble of thunder was like an engine’s roar and the rain was like small arms fire. Inside the yurt, Shas’ui’Tau’n’Rash’ko stood in Fire Caste armour, her pulse carbine was over one shoulder and her helmet in the crook of her arm.

Sitting on the floor opposite was a T’au wearing only a thin shawl draped across his shoulders, his long braided hair coiled in his lap like a purring ka’it. Between the two T’au was a pool of hot coals where tea brewed in a small stone pot. Thin wisps of earthy smelling steam rose from the pot. 

Rash’ko admitted it was easy to forget the fury of the storm outside in this calm space.

‘Why don’t you sit?’ The other T’au asked. Rash’ko ignored the offer.

‘You’re shorter than when I saw you last, Shas’el’Tau’n’Shiun.’ She said. ‘Must be the higher gravity of this world.’ The seated T’au smiled wistfully.

‘A different kind of weight holds you down, Rash.’ Her jaw tightened.

‘The burden of purpose is a heavy one.’ She replied, wincing at how serious she sounded. Shiun sighed.

‘Must everything be so life and death with you?’ He asked. Rash’ko became acutely aware of the pistol at her hip and the carbine still on her shoulder. She set the weapon down and slowly got to her knees. Shiun reached for a small ladle and filled two bowls from the pot. It was a dark green colour, herbs were dancing in the hot water. He offered the bowl to her but Rash’ko declined. Shiun’s face sagged. ‘Won’t you partake of the su’tesh as we did in our youth?’ 

‘Su’tesh is a warriors drink.’ Rash’ko said, the venomous words tasting sour in her mouth. Shiun sighed again and took a small sip of the tea and coughed from the heat of it.

The door to the yurt opened and a hooded, soaking wet T’au cautiously entered. He bowed to Rash’ko, then gave a significantly lower bow to Shiun.

‘Your h-holiness, f-forgive my coming in. The c-ceremony is starting soon, will you and your g-guests be joining us?’ The T’au spoke slowly and stuttered like a bad holo-call. Rash’ko gave a sideways glance to Shiun, unable to hide her contempt at the title ‘your holiness’. Shiun ignored her glare and smiled warmly.

‘My child,’ He began, Rash’ko raised an eyebrow. ‘Our meeting will be quick, begin preparations, we will join soon.’ The T’au bowed several times then left silently.

Your holiness? Not even the honoured Ethereals…’ She began accusingly. Shiun frowned.

‘It isn’t like that.’ He offered. Rash’ko continued.

‘I tried not to believe the kor’vesa’s pictures, I didn’t believe your flock when they greeted us…’ Shiun slammed his tea bowl down.

‘Try to understand!’ He snapped. ‘When that storm hit and we lost the fourth sphere… Rash, I thought the whole galaxy died! I crashed, I was alone, broken, without food or water laying in the dirt for three rotta, watching that terrible wound in the sky writhe overhead. I was as good as dead.’ He stood up shakily and began pacing the yurt. Rash’ko noticed he moved with a heavy limp. ‘I tried to use the pod’s emergency beacon but it was destroyed. When other survivors found me I was the highest-ranking T’au left. With the storm blocking any off-planet communication I assumed command. It was protocol…’ Shiun paused. ‘We needed time for repairs and for this storm to pass.’ He looked imploringly at Rash’ko, but she found it difficult to meet his gaze.

‘It’s been four years. Why only activate your beacon now?’ Shiun leant against one of the yurt poles, his forehead pressed into his forearm.

‘I finished repairs and gaps started appearing in the storm in a few months but… Something happened.’ He turned to face Rash’ko.‘We salvaged survival rations from the crash sites but started looking for alternative food sources, in case we had to survive long-term. When we ate the local flora I noticed… mental decay in the others.’ 

Rash’ko rose slowly. ‘Decay?’ She asked.

‘They didn’t question what I said, stopped asking when we were going home… Of course, I kept a supply of untainted rations for myself so I wasn’t affected and could maintain order. When it was just me the rations could last a long time.’ A proud smile formed on Shiun’s face. ‘We are at peace here. They are content, can’t you see that?’ Rash’ko felt ill. 

‘They’re being poisoned?’ She spluttered in disbelief. 

Shiun became agitated. ‘I saw the drones. I knew they’d send you to find me. I hoped you would understand! I’ve given these T’au peace, an escape from this war!’ He took a step toward Rash’ko. In one motion, her pistol flashed into her hand and she forced Shiun around, slamming him into a pole, pressing his arm into his back and the pistol against his neck. Shiun yelped in pain.

‘I should arrest you! I should kill you!’ She said, her voice breaking and tears forming in her eyes. ‘This was supposed to be a rescue mission!’

‘We don’t need rescuing!’ Shiun pleaded. Rash’ko froze, then slowly released Shiun and holstered her pistol with a trembling hand. He staggered away, flexing his injured arm.

‘What do I tell the Shas’ar’Tol? That you abandoned the Greater Good to become a god on a remote planet?’ Began Rash’ko then took a deep steadying breath. ‘Come back with me? We can help these T’au, rehabilitate and cure them!’ Shiun’s face darkened.

‘If you take me away, they will resist’ Rash’ko glanced at her carbine.

‘I have six warriors with me, these T’au have little more than sticks. It would be a massacre…’ She begged but felt her hand reaching back toward her pistol. ‘Don’t make us do this.’ Shiun remained unmoved.

‘You have a choice.’ He said.

But in her heart, Rash’ko knew that wasn’t true.


About the Author

Hayden is a UK based self-described “free-time” writer who spends 30% of his time coming up with sad space stories, 40% of his time playing with his cat, 50% of his time avoiding painting his grey Aeldari force and 20% of his time getting basic maths wrong.