A Shared Duty (1,097 Words)
Battle-Brother Felix knew that the end was coming soon.
The Archenemy had achieved complete orbital superiority. Their ground troops had taken most of the planet. The few remaining Imperial defenders had withdrawn to the capital city, only to find themselves surrounded by an enemy force that outnumbered them ten to one.
But Felix continued to do his duty nonetheless. For once, it did not involve using his sword. Instead, Brother-Sergeant Pontius had assigned him to make a show of force in the city's remaining residential districts - hoping to reassure the civilians and preventing the inevitable panic.
"We should not be here," grumbled Brother-Logis Cicero, who Pontius had also assigned to this task, "It is not our duty to protect these people."
Felix chose not to respond, grateful only that Cicero had used the private vox to voice his misgivings. He and Cicero would never see eye to eye on what it truly meant to be an Astartes. Cicero believed that everyone was but a variable in the cold algebra of war. Felix wanted to be something more than that.
Still, the civilians were wary of them. They feared the two giants encased in ceramsteel almost as much as the thundering roar of artillery fire that was coming ever closer. Only one had the courage to speak to either of them.
A young woman stepped in front of Felix, wearing the blood-stained robes of a Medicae. There was little life left in her eyes as she spoke.
"How goes the battle, Space Marine?"
"We are slowly losing ground, but reinforcements are en route," Felix said, choosing his words carefully. What he said was not entirely a lie, but he sought to change the topic of conversation nonetheless, "How is the situation in this district?"
"We know the truth," the Medicae said bluntly, "Survivors have been streaming in from the adjoining districts. They told me how they were killing everyone. They also told me what they do to the women they capture. I... I don't want those monsters to take me alive."
"A reasonable request," Cicero said suddenly, earning Felix's ire. But Cicero ignored his fellow Space Marine and handed something to the Medicae, "This is a powerful grenade. Three second fuse. Just pull the ring hard, and the end should be quick."
Felix balled his hand into a fist, ready to strike Cicero, but stopped as something caught his ears. Though he did not feel fear, he felt an icy chill in his veins as he recognized the sound.
"Enemy aircraft! Incoming!" Felix shouted, just before the world turned white. Felix felt himself flying through the air, before smashing hard into the ground. He almost blacked out.
But Felix was a Space Marine, and every instinct told him that he would not be waking up again if he allowed the darkness to take him. Painfully, he stood up and drew his sword, in time to witness everything turn into hell.
Renegade Valkyrie aircraft were flying low overhead, dropping their bomb loads on the civilian housing and setting it ablaze. Felix could hear the screams of men, women, and children as they were burned alive - and felt his own heart fill with rage.
But Felix instantly found an opportunity for vengeance. Some of the Valkyries were now dropping troops; to establish an aerial bridgehead to flank the beleaguered Imperial defenders. Felix was about to make sure it would be the last mistake they would ever make in their treacherous little lives.
The next ten minutes of Felix's life would be shrouded in myth and legend. Alone, Felix faced three platoons of elite Harakoni mercenaries and slaughtered them to the last man, without suffering a single scratch in return.
No one knew exactly how. Cicero did not witness what happened, for he was busy setting a record of his own by shooting down seven Valkyries with his plasma gun in the same time period. Felix himself could not exactly recall what he had done, only that he would never again feel such a blissful execution of righteous fury - and that it was Brother-Logis Cicero who had broken him out of that spell.
"There are more of them coming, Brother!" Cicero shouted, grabbing the battle-maddened Felix, "We must warn command of this air-assault!"
"But the civilians!" Felix shot back, ready to charge forward again as another wave of Valkyries appeared.
"It is not our duty to protect them!" Cicero repeated, "Our duty is to make command aware of this new threat!"
Before Felix could argue, lasfire began to bounce off their armor. It was followed by a grenade launcher round that knocked both Felix and Cicero off their feet. Felix cursed as he spotted a fresh squad of Traitor Harakoni advancing towards them, armed with specialist anti-armor weapons to deal with the two Astartes.
But the Archenemy troops never got to use them. Out of the corner of his eye, Felix saw someone running towards the enemy squad.
It was the Medicae.
And she was holding Cicero's grenade in her hands.
Before the Harakoni could react, she was amongst them. They shot her, again and again, but by then she had already pulled the pin.
Felix managed to see her face just before she disappeared in a ball of flame. It was full of relief.
"Enough, Felix! Let her sacrifice be not in vain!" Cicero told him, "Command must be warned!"
Felix did not argue with him this time.
Ten hours later, the situation had been completely reversed. The promised reinforcements had, for once, arrived earlier than expected. The Imperium had achieved total orbital supremacy. Massed enemy concentrations were being obliterated using orbital fire. The siege on the capital had been broken.
Yet despite the victory, Felix felt disquiet. He found the time to visit the spot where the Medicae had died, only to realize that someone else had the same idea.
"Why are you here, Brother-Logis?" Felix said as he spotted Cicero, "Have you come to gloat?"
"I stand by what I said," Cicero said defiantly, "It was not our duty to protect any of them."
"Then why are you here?" Felix asked, anger rising in his voice.
"To honor her," Cicero replied reasonably, "For reminding me of a greater duty that we all share."
Felix had not been expecting that answer. In a more conciliatory tone, he asked, "And what duty is that?"
"That we must all protect each other," Cicero said, before turning to face Felix. He offered his hand.
Felix paused only for an instant, before taking a step forward to take it.