Really good stories so far...I think ths is going to be a good one, guys!
As always, these words are my primate's brain trying to make sense of the visions I get.
I was surprised by the direction in which they took me.
(Draft just in case grammar/punctuation needs amending).
“Only duty remains” [1099 words].
“Why return? This world is far from The Enemy’s grasp; aren’t there more pressing matters?”
Commissar Gravex’s grim expression and the matte grey bolt pistol clutched tightly in his hand are reply enough.
“This shall be my last command, Trooper Frellt:
“After today, you have a new assignment. The person I meet here will be under your protection from now on. The paperwork is already complete.”
Reciting the Regiment’s training mantra, Gravex places both hands over his heart: “There is no questioning, only duty.” The bodyguard mirrors his officer.
Dust and stones fill the air from the shuttle’s backwash upon the desert basin.
Shielding her face against the worst of the debris, the farmer glimpses a man she had always hoped she would never see.
As though back on parade, she dusts off her homespun dress as best she can and stands to attention.
Years after PDF service, Mara Tellar still knows to salute an officer.
The colour of mourning upon her bleak world (because it represents the planet’s scarce vegetation and hope) a length of drab green cloth is folded into a pile of triangles in his arms. It’s yellow tassels of death-in-combat hang proudly down. ‘’Mine was a life not easily taken’’ they imply.
Although cracking from the lack of hydration upon this blasted wilderness, the timbre of her voice is yet strong:
“Tell me how Derin perished. Tell me he did some good with his life.”
In the face of such brave inquiry, Gravex’s stoic demeanour falls and he looks away, unable to bear the challenge in her gaze.
“I cannot assure you of that, Mrs. Tellar. Yet his loss was a blow to us all.”
Mara cast her hands around to indicate the forlorn patch of dirt she calls home:
“Look at this place! How can my husband and I ever produce crops now, with only one set of hands..? This was always a pathetic place, but Derin has such enthusiasm!
“He convinced me I could make something of it by the time his service...ends...”
Too long denied, her grief finally hits: falling forwards, she sobs and collapses into Gravex’s ready embrace.
His voice whispers low: “I can tell you of his end, if you would wish it. The real version, not the trash that the communiqués would let you believe..?”
Despite the tear-stained face, her ferocious stare of defiance shall brook no subterfuge, nor will it turn from the truth, thus, he continues:
“The world’s name is irrelevant, but Derin had stood sentry amongst the camp, ever-alert for signs of trouble. Still, there was no warning until the air shimmered and seven abominations -each more repulsive than the last- stood in the parking compound.”
His voice falters and breaks, fully reliving the horror for the first time.
“I can still recall the enemy’s fetid stench, more nauseating than my burning vehicles and men, victims of the cannons gifting everything with fire and death...”
Shakily handing her the pile of clothing, her eyes widen at the feared and familiar sight of a bolt pistol peeking out between the folds.
“So, you allowed my Derin to perish, then come all this way to finish off his last relation, too?”
Pushing him away, Mara looks him straight in the eye and salutes:
“You had better get this over with, for this Trooper Tellar shall face her executioner!”
Dropping to his knees in immediate supplication, Gravex’s pistol falls and scatters across the parched earth towards her.
“No! Derin was shot in the back because I distracted him to save my own skin!
“Even now, I see his hands reaching to pull me to safety, but I withdrew mine. His eyes widened for a second, seeing my terror, but that was sufficient time for the Traitor to gun him down.”
“I took away your husband’s life to save my own.
"Had I also fought, we would both have been saved. But, instead, I allowed him to die and I hid under his corpse until I could escape.
“The lies I concocted at court-martial saved me from the gallows. My shame and desire for atonement...restitution...brought me here.
“The Imperium does not care about one Guardsman, even one as decorated as Devin.
"Yet they do care about the numbers of Commissars amongst their ranks. I would be missed and the numbers must balance, so I needed to find a replacement...”
Running forwards and picking up the gun, Mara smashes it into the side of his upturned head, sending him sprawling into the sparse grass and sand.
Heaving breath wracking her form, she howls: “Your Imperium takes him away from me...the best man I have ever known...and then his assassin asks me to fight for it?!”
One punch is swiftly followed by another. Then a series of kicks lands upon the prone Gravex, doubling him over in pain until blood weeps from both corners of his mouth, speaking of a slow internal bleed.
As she stoops to hit again, his broken hand reached for her fist. The gentleness of his touch instantly stills her momentum, although not the fire in her eyes.
“I could have left you in your ignorance, toiling for a man who could never return. I do not wish for gratitude; there is only one course left open to us.”
“If you kill me here, the men in the lander will shatter your body with autocannon fire.”
The necessary lie slipped easily from his broken lips; one final untruth, to cover what must be done.
“However, if you execute me as a deserting coward in front of them and take up my role, there will be no questions asked. Derin served with exemplary distinction. My treachery took his life.
"I now return his life and his honour...that which I stole...to you.”
Long seconds pass as she makes her decision then she pulls him roughly to his feet, shouting so that the others can hear.
“Stand up soldier! Confess and face the judgement of the Lord of All!”
Gravex staggers and nearly falls, yet some last inner spark of decency enables him to remain upright long enough to make his announcement.
“I am Tertius-level Commissar Aloysius Gravex. I have been found guilty under the crime of desertion in the face of the enemy; I also murdered a soldier of The Emperor.”
The sharp report of the round and the explosion of impact drown out everything else, even the shuttle’s engines.
A body falls, swiftly overlooked and forgotten by the newly-appointed Commissar, the parched earth eagerly drinking the scarlet stain.
There is no more talk of bravery, or questions...only duty remains.
Urgently trying to trace any living relatives of Private Sam/Samuel "Jock" Wilson (Black Watch, No. 6 Commando, UK Army Service ID 2764432, died 10.06.44). Any info/suggestions gratefully received.
"Mockles! Pent on silpen tree, blockards three a-feening. Mockles! What silps came to thee, in thy pantry, dreaming?"
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