I was torn between two subjects for this one...maybe I picked the wrong one (lol), but here goes. (In my -probable- ignorance, I'd thought that 'contagion' could be akin to 'sickness', but maybe that might not be the official/dictionary-based definition?).
“The Hero of Xanthius Ridge” (HOES #6 “Contagion”):
(1096 words I think)
“Of course: it is a disease, Staff Sergeant Lyman; the most virulent cancer to be excised without mercy. Didn’t you know that?” Venkov’s voice broke the silence in the command bunker.
A sharp intake of breath and the harsh <kerchunk> of the other man’s pump-action shotgun told Lyman that he’d made another mistake. Despite his exemplary 22 year service record, his commander did not suffer fools so -in his best ‘parade ground’ voice- added: “No I did not know that, Lord-Commissar Venkov, sir!”
“That’s better”, said the other man turning around and visibly relaxing, yet still cradling the chrome-plated weapon in his arms.
Seeing the lower-ranked soldier eyeing the gun, yet mistaking the Staff Sergeant’s fear of it for interest, Venkov added: “I can see that you like guns, Lyman. That is good. Soldiers like you and I must sometimes use the most awful tools of our trades.”
“Indeed, Lord Commissar, sir” came the reply, yet the superior officer continued talking -almost as if there had been no response at all- whilst he seated himself in the ancient tactical command chair.
“This gun was given to me by my mentor, Commissar Adraeus, a fine man. You'll recall that it has performed much bloody work for us in this sector. Which is why I was so dismayed to hear reports of your treachery in the assault yesterday...most unbecoming of a decorated man like yourself. Isn’t that the Xanthius Ridge medal upon your chest?”
Confused and bewildered by Venkov’s statement, all Lyman could do was furiously nod in agreement with the question, whilst trying to work out what was happening: “Yes, Lord Commissar Venkov, sir. Two years ago, we wiped out the main warband of a greenskin menace in those valleys. It was one hell of a battle and I am honoured that you saved my life Lord Commissar, sir!”
A note of desperation had entered his voice as his mind fought to recall what he might have done to be accused of such things. ’Surely a couple of bets on the canid-racing and few snifters of looted amasec couldn’t count anywhere near equal to treason, could they?’
“I see that you are confused. Normally I would reserve such information for a court-martial but -given our history- I will indulge you, Lyman, a sort of ‘head-up’.”
“I would be very grateful for your patience, Lord Commissar, sir!” Lyman almost screamed in thanks, as it could buy more time to discover the truth. Venkov was surely a reasonable man: if he just had a minute to explain, Lyman knew that his superior would see the outright lies of these rumours and fully exonerate him.
“You and your platoons attacked the enemy trench at 9:00 did you not? You cleared the trench and began to work your way through them, exterminating the foe as you went? Why then did you stop to loot the foe’s corpses like common thieves? Didn’t we train those base practices out of you people in the transports on the way here?”
“Lord Commissar, sir: as we neared the end of the earthworks, the foe had brought up various heavy weapons and were in danger of strafing the entire trench and over a hundred of our men in it. Whilst we kept their heads down with covering fire and waited for support, I noticed that one of the slain enemies was a Captain who carried a document-pouch. I saw it contained plans and maps which could be vital to our war-effort and believed that these might help to end this struggle sooner...perhaps even years earlier and much less costly in lives than envisaged...”
Venkov’s venomous interruption stopped Lyman’s explanation dead in it’s tracks: “So, you not only derelicted your orders by failing to advance and staying where you were, but you also encouraged many others to do so? Then, you took it upon yourself to ‘Play General’ and dictate the Imperium’s war-policy..?! We did not give you that rank just to throw it around like a playground bully’s swagger and let you start deciding what is best for the Army...”
Desperately trying to appeal to his superior’s sense of duty and the command structure, Lyman retorted almost angrily: “I was the highest-ranking solder still standing; all the helmetless officers had been picked off by enemy snipers in the final hours before our assault. My soldiers are battle-hardened and courageous men, but you yourself know that men need bold leadership during adversity and these men had no-one else to show it to them, Lord Commissar sir.” Lyman almost spat out the last words through his gritted teeth, as he seethed at how his words were now being twisted right in front of him.
Face almost purple with rage, Venkov launched into his reponse: “Your guilt in the matter is manifest, Staff Sergeant Lyman! I will hear no more from your coward’s tongue, but you are allowed one chance to see if you can be cured of this sickness.” Even though the large bore gun did not need to be accurate to be deadly, the twin barrels of the shotgun swung up to align with Lyman’s upper torso.
The finality of his situation hit Lyman like a sledgehammer and he began to sink to his knees. However, with his end swiftly approaching, Lyman’s sense of duty and personal honour were the only things keeping him upright and the Lord Commissar saw this in his eyes, granting a brief reprieve as the Staff Sergeant straightened before him, resuming his stance of being at full attention.
“I will not run from battle, nor allow the enemy to gain ground...” Lyman began to invoke his unit’s battle-cant just before the heavy manstopper shells took him in the chest, shearing him almost in two as his corpse hit the bunker’s reinforced wall.
Outside, even Venkov’s iron-willed and steel-visored bodyguards shuddered at the resounding blasts from the weapon’s dual discharge, but said not a word to the disarmed prisoner-troopers in front of them.
Inside the room, Lord Commissar Ulatrius Venkov brutally suppressed his emotions at the waste of life that it was his calling to inflict. Closing the eyes of former Staff Sergeant Isak Lyman whilst he whispered: “Cowardice. Dereliction of duty. Ignorance of the chains of command. These things are the gravest of diseases afflicting the Imperium.”
Pressing the button for the bodyguards to admit the next criminal for execution, he intoned the same mantra he had already used twenty two times that day: “I use the most awful tools at my disposal to burn away and purge these contagions...lest you infect the whole body.”
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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Last edited by andygorn; 06-08-11 at 10:19 PM.