‘Sphere of Influence’

O’Vash gazed up to the heavens, a myriad of stars scattered lazily across the black dome of the night sky. The trees of the forest swayed gently in the wind, thin tendrils of mist gliding between their branches like cobwebs on the breeze.

‘It will be a beautiful addition to the empire, do you not think El’Or?’

‘As good a place as any to die.’ he replied, a hint of weariness in his voice.

O’Vash laughed loud and long. ‘Come now comrade, why so melancholy?  Do you feel it in your destiny to die in this place?’

El’Or considered this for a moment, and gave his usual measured replied. ‘If it is my destiny to die in this place, so be it. For the Greater Good.’

‘Ha!’ came O’Vash’s abrupt reply, his laugh thick with resentment. For the greater good indeed. El’Or had chosen his words carefully, in full knowledge of the response it would garner from his commander.

O’Vash knew all about the greater good. He had ordered thousands of lives be laid down in the pursuit of it, on a hundred worlds before this. The bitterness of those losses still haunted his dreams, and the memory of it robbed this moment of its serenity.

‘Very well El’Or. Report.’

The grizzled veteran raised the dataslate, its dull yellow glow casting shadows about his craggy features.

‘Fleet reports no extra orbital activity in the system. All outposts and recon teams have reported in during the last hour without fail. Sensor drones are on station but thus…. all is still quiet.’

Silence filled the void between the two warriors, as O’Vash Continued staring into the distance. El’Or had been deployed under his command enough times to know not to interrupt such moments.

O’Vash turned, the soft mechanical whirring of his battle suit barely audible above the rustling of the leaves. ‘And so you doubt me, El’Or?’.

The question hung in the air like a lead weight.  El’Or met the cold grey eyes of his commander and held his gaze before answering.

‘Have I ever doubted you? I merely report the facts that are before us, as instructed’ came the typically careful response.

‘And yet I sense unease in your voice?’

‘The only unease I have is at our exposed position. If you are right about this, we are ill situated to deal with it. The battle may go against us.’

‘If I am right…..’ O’Vash strode past his subordinate, stopping at the edge of the ancient ruin to observe the defensive preparations underway.

‘All warfare is based on deception. When we are able to attack, we must seem unable. When our forces are active, we must appear inactive. When we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away. When far away, we must make him believe we are near at hand.’

‘I am well aware of Puretide’s teaching on the matter.’ El’Or replied, lowering his dataslate and turning to observe his commander. The worn, pitted surface of his battle suit cut a ragged silhouette against the camp lights. ‘But to assume the enemy is present simply through his absence is…..’

‘Madness?’ O’Vash cut in, turning suddenly.

‘Overly prudent’ El’Or retorted calmly, sliding the dataslate into his breast pocket ‘However, preparations have been made, and if it comes we are as prepared as we can be. Given our position.’

O’Vash observed his subordinate for a moment, letting the rage subside within him. He was his brother of countless battles, and even though he would never admit it to his face, he valued El’Or’s perspective on the world. Especially when in such sharp contrast to his own feelings.

This time however, he could not ignore the doubt that had taken root in the back of his mind.

Something was wrong.

He had argued against this deployment. The Imperium was not as lethargic as they assumed, and more capable of launching an attack than they thought.  Other lien facions courted their objective also, and posed a multitude of threats to his men. However, the Ethereals had been victorious in swaying the Contingent Command to their way of thinking, and so it was decided.

A soft chiming noise broke the silence, along with O’Vash’s introspection.

El’Or once more removed the dataslate and observed its output, the dull yellow glow replaced by a pulsing red rhythm. He looked up.

‘Sensor drones report enemy movement two kilometers to the north. Heading this way.’

A wry smile broke across O’Vash’s face as his fingers danced along the suit control panels. The Fusion Blasters swung to life on his shoulders, as the soft whine of the jet pack engines kicked in.

‘Prepare the men. And get to your unit El’Or, they will need you soon enough’.

‘For the Greater Good’ came El’Or’s dead pan reply as he saluted and strode away.

‘Indeed’ replied O’Vash, turning to savour the calm landscape one last time.

‘For the Greater Good.’

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