Dreams - The Emperor Protects
I dreamed of them again tonight, and of the red -I-.
I can hear the sharp taping of booted feet on the rocrete. I wish I was asleep. It’s only been two hours since I was dismissed from watch duty. According to the rotation I should still have another two hours to try and rest, but they don’t care about schedule’s here. In the hive when they needed every man to work for days on end they told you. Here they let you sleep, and then wake you up early
The boots pass by my bunk. The man in the next bunk stirs, is shaken, and rises. He scrambles for a moment, going for his boots. An officer barks some words. Two pairs of boots march off, and I start to drift back to sleep.
The hive burned.
It took days, not months, for the traitors to break the outer defenses. Sev was carrying a stubber and looking scared. All the Klaxons were sounding. I clung to the hem of his tunic as he walked warily down the hallway. The sharp crack of lasfire echoed around the corner, and we ducked into an open bulkhead. Sev closed it behind us.
It was a hab cell, same as home. Sev looked around hurriedly, walking over to the sleeping coffin. “Al, get in the cof’ now.” he barked at me, uncharacteristically harsh. I sniffed and got into it. “Don’ make a sound.” He ordered me. He closed it.
I waited for some time, and listened. After some time I heard the sound of the door opening. A boot clacked on the floor.
“Put that down!” I heard the voice of Char order Sev.
“Char!” Sev cried “I thought you were a trat’!”
“Not like!” Laughed Char, several voices laughed. My heart lifted, if Char and his gang were here we were safe. They could beat anybody, especially if they were with Sev. There was a sharp ping and a lot of shouting, and then a boom, deafening even inside the coffin. Then there were noises.
Men talked in long words and harsh voices about things I didn’t understand. There was the crack of lasfire, laughter, wet sounds, and screaming. Then there was silence. After what seemed like days I got hungry and let myself out of the coffin.
Everyone was gone. And everything was painted red. There was a star painted on the door. I started walking cautiously towards the hallway, the door was slightly ajar. I decided to look for someone. The star was a traitor symbol, and whoever had put it there had to be punished. The priests had told me that the Emperor wanted me to punish traitors. I stepped on something crunchy. I looked down, picking my foot back up.
Sev looked up at me. I started to run.
“Guardsman! Get out of your bed! Stand at Attention!” The Sergeant’s bark shatters my dream.
“Sir!” I shout, jumping out of bed.
“Put your uniform on, guardsman, you are going to have a conference with the commissar.” says the Sergeant.
I pull on my fatigues. I wonder briefly if I should don my flack armor, thinking of the Commissar. I decide against it. If the Commissar wants me dead I’ll be dead, armor or no armor. I pull on my boots.
“Follow me, guardsman.” Grunt’s the sergeant. He’s scared. I can tell from the way he keeps his brow furrowed, trying to look imposing and important. He wants to be seeing the commissar about as much as I do.
We march off, I notice that the bunk next to mine is still empty.
It’s raining. I’ll never get used to rain. It confuses my sense of direction, reminds me of the empty expanse above me, the sky. It reminds me of everything I don’t deserve.
My boots are sunk into six inches of mud. I’m leaning against the side of a trench, B-XVI, our trench. It’s a stretch four meters long and two deep. It’s connected by two rockcreete tubes ten meters long and one meter wide to B-XV and B-XVII. We’ve got one Para-hol for keeping an eye on no man’s land, a Vox, and three mortars. There are six of us, three spotters, and three gunners. I’m a spotter by rank, but Skeeves and I trade places when the shooting starts. I know the mechanism better. I’m better with machines.
Skeeves is trying to light a lho stick. He can’t get it lit, he’s doing it wrong. I hold my hand towards him. “Here.” I say.
He hands me the lighter and the paper tube. I shrink myself in, making a pocket of still air out of the weather, and light the stick. Once it’s burning I pass it back to him.
He nods and smiles, his dark face wrinkling in a wide grin, his slant eyes disappearing in the wrinkles. He draws off of the stick. He holds it out to me.
“’Shit ‘ll kill you s’day.” I tell him, waving it off. He laughs. He likes it when I talk like a hiver, my words contracted. A grenade lands between us with a soft squelch and disappears into the mud.
The Commissar’s office is roomy. A civilian model vox, the kind that plays music, is sitting silent in the corner on a shiny wooden table. The commissar is on the other side of his desk, hands held loosely clasped behind his back, the right on the wrist of the left, the left on the handle of his bolt pistol, barrel smoking. He’s looking out the window over the dry cracked desert of no man’s land. The window flickers faintly. It’s a holo-feed plate; no man’s land is above us on the other side of forty feet of dirt gravel trenches and rocrete.
His chair, an ornate swiveling throne is turned away from me.
Blood is everywhere. Two headless corpses lay crumpled against the wall behind me, their upper halves seared, no doubt by the explosion of bolt shells.
My sergeant slides a sidelong look towards the bodies. “Will that be all sir?” He asks, swallowing.
The commissar turns, and fixes him with a haughty stare. There is a beat. You’d need a chainsword to cut the air in this room. The sergeant’s forehead is drenched in sweat.
“You are dismissed.” The Commissar says, evenly.
The sergeant bolts for the door. It swings slowly shut behind him, closing with a soft click.
The commissar looks down his hooked nose at me. “You are Alexandre Dretchnov, are you not?” He asks sharply. I hate the name. My name is Al, Al Dret.
We both look at each other, then down into the mud. A second passes, then another. After four we begin to wonder if it’s a dud. At five I scramble to Skeeves’s mortar and hand Skeeves my magnoculars. The other two teams follow suit.
I load a mortar into its tube. I look up towards Skeeves, “Where am I pointing?” I ask him. He falls backwards in front of me, a knife in his face, blood splattering everywhere mixing with the rain and the mud. I look down at his face, frozen in a look of dull surprise.
There’s a Grot standing at the top of the trench, I pull out my pistol and shoot. With a crack and a bright flash its left arm is gone and it falls over, scorched black. There’s a bellow and two orks come barreling over the edge of the trench. They’re painted up like the color of the mud.
“Good.” He turns towards his desk, dropping the pistol on it. “The last sergeant brought me the wrong man.” He mentioned casually. I glance at the two corpses. He picks up a file on his desk, a sheaf of ancient yellowing parchment. He holds it up, there’s a Red I on the front, and a skull. “Know what this is?”
“No.” I answer him.
“Good.” He grunts. He stares at me for a moment. “I was against it, you know. Taking you, I mean. You’re bad luck, there’s just something about you. I don’t like you. I don’t like your death-white skin, and I don’t like you being so freakishly tall. And I don’t like that everyone you end up with ends up dead.” He narrows his eyes. “Mark my words. He’s not the emperors.” He says sideways.
“That is my job to determine.” A voice cuts in. It’s soft and eerie. I don’t like it. “Tell me, boy, why are you in the Emperors guard?” it asks me.
This is my chance. I can die today, and see Sev.
The orks are enormous. One is barreling straight for me; I aim my gun at it and fire, over and over. It raises its huge axe over its head to swing at me and I start stepping back. It roars at me, it’s gaping green mouth opening unnaturally wide, showing rows of slimy teeth.
There’s a click.
The ork explodes. I blink for a moment, not understanding. Then I remember the grenade. Green ichor lands on my face. The other ork looks up from disemboweling Stetson. There are three of us left in the trench, and one ork.
I start to choke. The ork is standing still.
Davidson and Kerchansky charge past me, bayonets fixed, it lops them both in half with one swing of a massive sword. I just stare blankly. The vox crackles two words. “Full retreat.”
I bolt for the back of the trench, leaping at the edge and scrambling to climb over it. The ork bellows at me, and makes to come after me. Fear grips me. It swings as I roll my legs over the top of the trench, burying it’s sword in the wall. I roll to my feet and run, it lets go of its weapon and draws an enormous pistol. I can hear it firing behind me. I would be dead but it’s a terrible shot. I’m maybe ten meters away when I hear the shriek of the artillery.
When I arrive that night at the command post, the guards nearly shoot me. I’m informed that a surprise attack wiped out my regiment, and that the zone was re-designated as open fire for the basilisks in order to stop the orks momentum. Any survivors of the attack must have died in the bombardment.
By all rights I should be dead.
“Serve the Emperor.” I respond. “Sir.”
The chair swivels around. A bald man with a vox for a face is sitting in it. He’s shrouded in black robed. His eyes are black and ringed with bags.
“What?” Asks the Commissar.
The vox crackles over the strange man’s vox. “And you have gone on serving the emperor.” He says to me in his harsh metallic voice. It reminds me of home. “You’ve served in four different regiments. One of them no longer exists, and yet here you are in front of us.”
I stiffen. “I trust the Emperor will find a suitable death for me in due time.” I remark bitterly.
The Commissar reaches for his pistol. “That is Insolence in the face of your better, and I will have none of it!” He snarls.
“Hold yourself!” shrieks the man in the chair, the Vox whining at the sudden burst in volume. The commissar freezes, staring at him, lips pursed eyes wide. Slowly he straightens himself.
At length the strange man turns to me. “Tell me, boy. What do you think the Emperor asks of you?” He blinks.
I pause for a moment. “He asks only that I die standing.”
The soft voice returned. “Do not lie to me.” Then the harsh drone of the vox returned. “Do you believe that is his only wish for you?”
The Commissar snorted. “This man is a guardsman, your honor; it is not in his nature to have aspirations.”
I hesitate. “I’ve thought he might have a plan for me sir, but that’s not for me to say.”
The Commissar’s eyes narrowed. “I wash my hands of this madness.”
The stranger stands. “Good.” The strange voice returns. “Good, go and fetch your equipment. You will need it. “
Minutes later I am packing my gear for carrying, my weapons, my armor, my micro bead, what rations I’ve got. I pause. There is a carton of lho sticks, half empty. I take one and light it, lodging it in the corner of my mouth. The familiar burning sensation fills me. I can see all their faces, Sev, and Char, and Skeeves, and the rest. And for the first time I feel as though they approve.
“This one’s for you, Skeeves.” I mutter, packing the rest of the carton away. I stand up and march out.
Where am I going? Damned if I know. What’s the mission? Don’t know that either. Who’s the commander? Well, he’s creepy as the warp. That I know for sure but not much else. I don’t know shit, but for the first time I’m not afraid. For the first time, I’m not ashamed to think that the Emperor is watching me.
I arrive at the landing pad. There’s a thunderhawk gunship on it. All the priests are fawning and I don’t blame them. It’s beautiful, a work of art. It’s got that same I symbol on it. It’s revving up to leave when I step up the ramp. The stranger is waiting for me. I didn’t realize it seeing him sitting in the Commissars office, but he’s enormous. He makes the sign of the aquilla.
I hear that soft voice again. “The emperor protects.”
I bow, fumbling in my bulky gear to make the Aquilla. “The Emperor Protects!” I bellow over the engines. Only hours later in orbit does it occur to me that I heard him fine without his having to shout over the engines.
I wrote this as the back-story for a character for Dark Heresy (Hive world guardsman, duh), thought I'd throw it up and say I ain't dead!
"A true king is never alone, his will is equal to the will of all of his followers."
-Alexander the Great, kind of