The messenger drone had plummeted from the sky arresting its fall seconds before crashing into the concourse paving. It had inserted needles, interrogated her implants and scanned Por’El’Tau’Lian’s retinas before it surrendered the tiny piece of cargo that had been sealed inside it. Receiving such a sensitive package from the Ethereals in broad daylight of the Information Bureau had caused ripples of silence and averted eyes amongst the hubbub of normally gossiping and inquisitive bureaucrats. Lian had been chosen for a task by the Aun, and from that moment, no one would risk disturbing her from it.
What is their transgression?
The only instruction that contextualised the classified personnel files, the Lian, had been delivered in the slender datapad. She had settled at her usual seat at the oval desk that she usually shared with twelve other por’els of the Public Dissemination Network. The absence of their voices made her notice the bubbling of the ornamental water in the holo-pool projector that normally served as their collaborative workspace. Now it only displayed a three dimensional reflection of the pool of water that it sat in.
Each file had a name that she had heard whispers and rumours of since she was a little girl, alongside patchy medical histories, Fire Caste battle assessments and previously censored criminal files:
Shas’O Ob’lotai – A.I. reconstruction.
Shas’O Brightsword – Cloning.
Fio’O Stone Dragon – Spinal Micro-drones.
Shas’O Puretide – Engramatic Personality Override.
Then she reached the final file. This one had required her to again submit to DNA testing and voice recognition to the pad itself. A secured file within a secured data pad delivered from the Ethereal council of T’au itself. From the clues that had come before there was only one name that it could have been:
Shas’O Farsight – Chronometric distortion/Serial Murder.
Vior’la’s favoured son. The Renegade. The Beg’el Scourge. The Traitor.
What is their transgression?
The query was confusing in its simplicity. None of these individuals officially existed in the Tau data net nor had they ever existed. Here they had recorded births centuries in the past, yet crimes that included theft, mutiny, moving between spheres and treason dated up to the present day. Surely their transgressions were manifold.
She knew the rumours. Her role was to disseminate the truth as a rumour to counter the inevitable gossiping that all Tau did as naturally as breathing. Gathering and talking in their communal groups was a behaviour that united the castes in a way only the Ethereals truly appreciated, from Fire caste ta’lissera to Earth, caste research committees. Tau talked and shared. You could not stop it as surely as you could not stop the flood surge. But you could direct it. Steer it in the direction you want. Lian and her colleagues were the channels and dykes that saved the Tau public from panic and hysteria.
What was the transgression of these individual Tau? Those whose names were whispered in the quietest corners of the empire. To whom cargo vessels, mining equipment and newly trained staff were disappearing in what were called “rounding errors”, “manifest duplicates”, and “navigational errors”. The Secret Empire.
She scanned the files again. Was it her task to discover why these individuals had turned from the Tau’va? What would the Ethereals think she could know of developmental psychology? Or criminology. All within her caste’s sphere certainly, but her service was dedicated to the bureau, not the Kau’tyr, nor other investigative bodies.
The Aun were all knowing, and the drone had delivered the knowledge to her from them. She alone was trusted with this task. So the task must be in her remit. One transgression that even one Tau could see.
She looked around the empty table, fidgeting in place. Around the bureau, other teams were engaged in their productive chatter, sharing ideas, stories and feelings freely. She was used to bouncing her ideas off the others, inspired as their ideas would merge in the central holo-pool. With them, she might tease out the gaps in her knowledge to understand the technologies cited in the files or the campaigns referenced. Then again, they were all alike. Why would any of them know any more about such things? Maybe that was why this task was hers alone. Any one of them could work with this information. So the less, the better for security. Any one of them was interchangeable in this task.
That was when she saw it. The names. Names that were whispered still. Names that should have faded into the obscurity of history and death long ago. It did not matter how the technology worked or what they had done with their stolen time.
Death had not claimed them.
All over the Empire. Day by day. Billions lived and died for the shared destiny that had brought the Tau out of the time of darkness. Some died on the battlefield or in the dangerous new septs, the exemplar of sacrifice. Some died of old age, and in retirement, a lifetime of service was their great testimony to the future.
By rising, again and again, they had made their names legendary. Greater than the many.
Greater than the Greater Good.
She began to write. There were sound bites to construct. Wordplay to craft. But she had captured the essence of the will of the Exalted Ones. She felt the beaming fulfilment as if one of the Aun had smiled at her in person. Their question was the question that should have echoed in every whispered corner.
What was their transgression?
They should have remained dead.
As the hot sun of T’au grew low in the sky and shadows were cast through the great structure of the bureau, she at last loaded the proposal of the counter communication campaign onto the pad and keyed the drone recall command.
She walked to the concourse that opened to the orange skies and offered up the pad as her offering to the Tau’va. Perhaps her work would even reach the attention of his Supreme Wisdom, the Great Aun’va.
About the Author
Josh is writer and blogger at marriedwithgoblins.wordpress.