This was my effort for this months Black Library Bolthole Read-In-A-Rush competition. All stories must be within 10% of 1000 words and must work around a theme (not at all dissimilar to HOES). The theme for January was Resolution.
Read all the other great stories here: http://www.thebolthole.org/forum/vie...hp?f=36&t=1446
Here is mine:
Trial by Fire
Colonel Ibn Matuhkin gazed out from the entrance of the tent; under his bearded face his lips curled into a humourless smile. The tau were indeed an insidious enemy. To all but the most attentive observer the cameleoline coverings that enveloped the great domed shelters ought to have turned the Tallarn 3rd strike Force into nothing but a traveller’s mirage. Furthermore, surrounded by sanded white desert and in such a hot environment, as provided by Maurs II, his specialist Guardsman, the so called Desert Raiders, ought to have had the advantage over their xenos foe.
The colonel had realised that something was amiss within a few days of planet fall. His advantage vanished as quickly as a Hruskan’s promise. Something had directed the tau toward their base of operation and although they remained invisible whilst stationary, any opportunity for a surprise attack had been destroyed.
Matuhkin closed his eyes and inhaled the dusty wind that reminded him so much of his distant home and what it meant to be Tallarn. He unsheathed his jambiya and traded it, back and forth, from hand to hand. He felt the weight of its purpose as he reflected on recent events.
The Colonel had stood at a large table reviewing the pict-display of the lay of the land and considering the appropriate direction of advance when a commotion outside his command tent took his attention.
‘What on Terra is going on out there?’ he shouted.
Rhanin and Bulrhan, his vigilant and ever dependable bodyguards entered his tent. Rhanin had his powerful arms wrapped tightly around the shoulders of a Guardsman that the Colonel did not immediately recognise. Rhanin pushed the Guardsman forwards a little too hard and he stumbled into an unintentional bow. ‘He says that he news for your ears only, sir’, said Rhanin. ‘Sir, he had this with him too’, said Bulrhan holding up a cracked vox-caster like a trophy.
Matuhkin did not have time for unnecessary distractions. He was conducting a war damn it! ‘What do you want trooper?’
Vox-Trooper Solom climbed to his feet and, avoiding eye-contact, mumbled sheepishly, ‘There is a traitor in camp’.
Rhanin lurched forward and struck Solom in the back of his head. Solom collapsed and Rhanin crouched down to the ear of the beaten soldier and spoke firmly. ‘You are addressing a ranked officer; you will address him clearly and properly’.
Vox-Trooper Solom pushed himself slowly up. The Colonel thought he caught a moment of resentment of his face, but in an instant it was gone, if it had been there at all. Matuhkin dismissed his bodyguards. He didn’t want to lose another good fighting man because of a minor breach of protocol, even if he should have known better.
‘Now, what’s this about?’ Matuhkin asked quizzically. ‘A traitor you say? Are you sun addled trooper?’
‘No Colonel’, Solom said as he picked up the weighty vox-caster with both hands and heaved it onto the command table.
With newly revealed confidence, Trooper Solom explained how he had been tuning and setting his vox-caster when he had caught unusual chatter on an unused frequency. He had heard xenos words from a human tongue and the only discernable word was a familiar name. Rajad.
The Colonel’s eyes narrowed as he gripped Solom roughly by the jaw and twisted head so that they were staring eye to eye. ‘If you intend to make allegations against a superior officer you better well have some compelling evidence’, he demanded.
Solom revealed a smug smile. ‘I do Colonel’.
The Vox-Trooper twisted the dials on the vox-caster back and forth, but the Colonel knew something was amiss when Solom’s approach turned from frantic thumbing into bashing the body of the machine.
‘Something wrong trooper?’, he asked.
‘Your damn heavies have broken it. I had it all recorded and now nothing’.
‘Excuses’, the Colonel said through gritted. ‘I am not prepared to drag the good name of a Lieutenant through the dirt on the word of a nobody’.
‘Perform Bisha’a’, Solom implored.
‘Bisha’a?’ Matuhkin stroked his chin whilst contemplating the suggestion. ‘Interesting’.
The Colonel turned around and entered the tent designated DELTA-B. He noted that the interior walls and ceiling of the tent were coated completely with the flags of the third; each a bright red orb of fire set over the yellow sands of home. The Colonel considered it an apt surrounding for a trial born of Tallarn.
In the middle of the tent lay a tall crate turned into a makeshift table. On the table lay an ivory bowl, carved from the hip bone of a Mukaali perhaps, and a bottle containing a dark stinking oily liquid. To one side of this unusual display knelt Guardsman Solom, the accuser and Lieutenant Rajad, the accused, knelt to the other. To the edges of the tent stood a dozen or so fervid witnesses.
The Colonel walked around the room, making eye contact with the spectators for moments at a time. ‘Bisha’a’, he said addressing all present, ‘is a gift passed from the divine Emperor to the people of Tallarn. The Mechanicum have a device that can pull the truth from a man’s mind. The officers of the Commissariat can beat out the truth. These methods are imperfect and they can be fooled because they demand the truth. The Emperor simply asks for it’. Matuhkin let slip a mischievous grin. ‘But, boy does he hate liars’. A few chuckled in response.
As he approached the table he asked Solom and Rajad to rise. ‘The Emperor cares not for rank’, he said as placed his curved ornate dagger down, picked up the bottle of sticky thick liquid and poured its contents into the bowl. He took an ignite crystal from his pocket and dropped it, from between thumb and finger, into the promethium and the liquid sparked into a greenish-yellow vibrant flame. He next placed the dagger into to the flame turning it from side to side.
Matuhkin looked to Solom first. He was stood straight and firm with a wry smile on his face. Was he cocksure or simply assured in his conviction?
‘Do you accept Bisha’a?’, the Colonel asked. Without hesistation Solom replied, ‘I do’.
Matuhkin turned to Rajad. The Lieutenant’s face gave the Colonel nothing. The Colonel had reviewed his file. He was a cold ruthless soldier with a long and impeccable record. What would he gain from betraying his own?
Liuetenant Rajad accepted Bisha’a.
Solom, the accuser, opened his mouth wide in readiness to receive the Emperor’s test. Matuhkin picked up his red-hot dagger and slowly moved the glowing blade forward. He paused for a moment and looked Solom in the eye. ‘The tau may have told you that you have protection from Bisha’a; they lied’.
It was a gamble, but the flicker of hesitation was revealing and in the minutes that followed, the Emperor’s justice burned fiercely.