A/N: So I wrote the first half of this addition about two and a half years ago; recently decided to finish it, because why not. Hopefully this thread returns to life… hopefully this site does. Until then, post 1/3:
The battle of Terra raged on, in desperate fury, into its seventh month. An engagement this long was impossible by all laws of war. Oh, to be sure, campaigns on a single world could last decades; wars between worlds could stretch for millennia. But a battle, with enemy bodies lying on top of each other across the surface of the planet, without any real respite for the exhausted troops, simply could not last that long. Everyone would be dead within a fortnight.
But this was no ordinary battle. This was the final battle for the central planet in the galaxy. And it was a battle to whom, against their will, more and more ships traveling in the Warp across galactic history found themselves drawn like an apple to ground.
Space Marines, Imperial Guard, Inquisition and Mechanicum forces, various human alliances from outside the Imperium, the Astartes, cultists, and daemons of Chaos, Craftworld Eldar, Harlequins, Dark Eldar, Orks, Tyranids, the various species of the Tau empires, the Necron dynasties, Rak’Gol, Barghesi, K’nib, Dracolith, Noisome Reek, Draxians, Q’orl, Thexians, Loxatl, even species long extinct such as the Slaugth, Zoats, and Jorgall – all found themselves drawn to this fated conflict. The Hrud alone seemed to be immune, but their absence was little-noted, for there was no time to contemplate such things in the slaughter.
The battle raged on, both fulcrum and distraction, between future and past, on the crust of all destinies’ plane. And outside it, a galaxy rang with countless echoes.
The light had gone out long ago; and now, all things fought to ensure they would survive to see it ignite again.
If not all, then most would fail.
Such, Mortarion supposed, was ever the fate of tyrants.
He sat on a throne of mutated bone, looking down on the Plague Planet in disgust, alone – always alone – in this age of dusk. The world was as Barbarus had been before the coming of the Emperor; but where once Mortarion had been the liberator, now he was the oppressor.
Magnus had told him that the Emperor had returned, reincarnated into a new mortal shell. But Magnus was a servant of the greatest liar in the universe, or had been, at least.
Magnus – once Mortarion’s greatest foe among his brothers, now the last whom he could call a friend. In the service of Chaos, after all, sorcery was somewhat unavoidable. The Crimson King’s soul was still bound to Tzeentch, but that was insufficient to allow the Changer of Ways to control it. It wasn’t enough to control any of the Daemon-Primarchs, not really. That was why they weren’t the ones to lead the dark crusades: they were too weak to be triumphant, but too powerful to be trustworthy. Lorgar Aurelian alone was truly devoted to Chaos; he had never pledged himself to a single god, and thus saw things differently.
But Mortarion was only capable of hate and pity, both for himself and for the universe around him (and for his patron, hate alone, distilled ever since that bastard Typhon broke his Legion). Because despite eternity, weakness and failure had become the only constants. Because….
“Because everything ends,” Mortarion said aloud, aware of a new presence in his mountaintop gazebo. One too strong for even his home to devour.
“And yet something endures,” replied the Emperor of Mankind.
He was in a child’s body, and his aura was not quite right; but he was, at the very least, not of Chaos. Mortarion suspected Magnus knew exactly who this being was, but not being a psyker, he could only hope. And Daemon Princes of Nurgle tended not to hope.
“What have you come here for, then, if you have not despaired?” Mortarion asked.
“To bring you back,” the Child-Emperor said, as his golden aura burned brighter. “I offer you the chance to fight for justice once again.”
Hope, hope which his daemonic body was physically incapable of; so Mortarion could only come to the conclusion that the Emperor was lying. Mortarion was by this point no asset, having failed even at controlling his own Legion.
“I know,” the Child-Emperor said, “that some of your own sons have betrayed you. So tell me – would you stop at anything to bring them back?”
And hope, once more, brighter, as the Emperor’s solar flame flared, as truth settled in. He was burning away, Mortarion felt, diseases and ethereal flesh alike vanishing, and he knew that this was a fine way for all of it to end. With hope before hate, and love before fear, for once. His ‘father’ on Barbarus had not felt any sort of peace at his own doom, but Mortarion, for all his imitation, had never been quite the same. Not even as darkness’ soul.
Except that this was not the end. Because, as so much of Mortarion had died, replaced by mere entropy, now through that same Warp he was reforged.
No daemon, not anymore; his Primarch’s body re-emerged from the flames, the corruption blown away. He stood once more, holding a pure Manreaper, the daemon-gazebo around him crumbling into dust.
“Your soul is still Nurgle’s,” the Emperor said.
“Of course,” Mortarion answered. Saving that was simply impossible. Still, if he could fight by his father’s side one last time before eternal doom, it would be worth it.
“It is trapped in Nurgle’s Garden,” the Child-Emperor continued, as the gazebo’s ruins faded around them in the teleporter’s glare. “We will retrieve it in time; but for now, Nurgle is one of the stronger Ruinous Powers, second only to Khorne.”
Perhaps the Child-Emperor was exaggerating the ease with which his soul could be saved, perhaps this was even an outright lie, but the very possibility…. Only his soul did not deserve to be saved.
“I have still done abominations,” Mortarion felt the need to point out. “It’s not as if I can simply be forgiven.”
“We have all done terrible things,” the Emperor replied, as a starship’s bridge snapped into reality. “It is the nature of the universe. The crucial thing, my son, is not to lose compassion. To understand, and thus love, those you destroy. And empathy, Mortarion – yours may have been weak at the start, but through those long millennia, empathy was perhaps the only part of you that survived.”
Zhaggricha, Warboss of the Orange Train Waaagh, was moderately confused. His boyz had been rampaging around in the southern part of the galaxy, in the thirty-sixth millennium by the human calendar (he found the human calendar fascinating, and indeed had tried to create his own, Orky calendar in his Waaagh, which had almost caught on before this mess happened), and then when they came out, the place was all wrong. The other Orks said that this was Terra, the human homeworld, and that it was the fifty-first millennium by the human calendar, which would make it the seventy-third wak by his calendar. Weird stuff happened sometimes with the Warp, of course – Zhaggricha had heard the legend about the Warboss who went back in time and krumped himself – but Zhaggricha’s was far from the only Waaagh to land here.
The main problem in this place was that there was almost no soil left anywhere on the planet, so very few new Orks were appearing, except from orbit. For the most part, however, it was just a really big scrap between everyone, especially the humies. The humies’ big palace was to the northwest of Zhaggricha, and they had drawn a really big ring around it that they were defending. Attacking that ring was not much fun, because the humies had a lot of long-range guns; but there were plenty of fighting to be had outside.
Revving his giant warbike, whose noise somewhat drowned out even the warcry, Zhaggricha sped forward, his troops riding behind. In the distance, across a bunch of ruined buildings, there was a really tall black tower with a gigantic humie ear hanging off the top. A ring of tentacles surrounded the ear, and below the tower had no windows and had writing that Zhaggricha didn’t understand all over it. The tower’s cannons fired at the Orks, but after two volleys they stopped for some reason.
“Evil Sunz!” Zhaggricha shouted to his boyz as they got close to the tower. “An’, well, I guess everyone else as well. Fire at the tower! They’ve got an ear, they’ve got tentacles, they’ve probably got teef as well!”
“WAAAAAAAAAAAGH!” came the reply.
The warbikes and other vehicles began to arc fire towards the tower, which immediately responded with a new volley of its own. Up close, Zhaggricha saw that the tower was also shooting the other way, meaning either that someone else was trying to take the teef in the tower or that the people inside didn’t see where the Orks were because the tower had no windows.
Then, suddenly, the tower shook, and then started to fall as more rockets blew up against it – right onto Zhaggricha’s boyz!
“Swerve left!” the warboss shouted, as the tower leaned further and further. “Or right!”
Most of the warbikes did, in fact, swing to avoid the obvious danger. Zhaggricha saw that Nukskk, one of his Nobz, didn’t do so, and instead swerved both right and left, thereby riding straight into the base of the tower. Zhaggricha, himself, had ridden left, thereby getting out of the tower’s shadow.
Then the tower fell down, and the ground shook with the impact, revealing who had knocked it off. It was a giant fat monster, dripping wet, with two horns on its head and four legs. It looked like some sort of humie farm animal, except it was five times as tall as Zhaggricha (and he, being a Warboss, was quite big himself).
“Blood for the Blood God!” bellowed the humie sitting on top of the animal.
Zhaggricha turned to his bikerz, which had stopped. “Well?” he asked. “Chaos humies, eh? Let’s stomp ‘em too!”
Pulling up before the Warboss, Zhaggricha’s second-in-command Eablatz pointed at the person riding the beast. “That’s no humie!” he explained.
And squinting, Zhaggricha realized Eablatz was correct. Sure, he looked a lot like a Chaos humie, and he wasn’t wearing his species’ normal stuff, but the figure on top of the beast –
Was an Ork.
That was totally bizarre, really. Chaos Orks were extremely rare; they’d have to revolt against Gork and Mork, and why would anyone want to do that? But it was hardly the most confusing thing in this whole mess, so Zhaggricha turned to his boyz.
“Well,” he said, “who cares if it’s an Ork? We’ve fought other Orks often enough, and smashed them good! And this one –” he paused as more Chaos Orks began to emerge from the water – “these ones aren’t even properly Orky, since they’ve betrayed brutal cunning and cunning brutality. For Mork!”
“For Mork!” echoed the Waaagh, excluding those who shouted “For Gork” instead.
“For Gork!” Zhaggricha continued.
“For Gork!” came the echo, with a few “For Mork”s sprinkled in for flavor.
The enemy Orks were silent except for an incoherent grunt-roar. It was a loud one, but nowhere near enough to drown the noise of the Orange Train’s warbikes when those turned on. In the din, hundreds of vehicles streaked towards the ocean, the Chaos Orks running against them from the shore. Zhaggricha aimed his warbike at the presumed enemy leader, the one sitting on top of the beast. He responded by driving his steed forwards, trampling several overeager bikers and a few of his own boyz.
“Blood for the Blood God!” he screamed. “Skulls for the Skull Throne! I am Greenbreaka, lord of the True Blood!”
“Gork an’ Mork are da only true blood!” Zhaggricha replied, driving his bike straight at the beast’s dropping leg. It wasn’t really like he cared all that much about Gork and Mork, or even knew exactly what they were. But Chaos Orks were just wrong and utterly un-orky. “I am Zhaggricha, and the Orange Train’s gonna run yah ovah!”
As the beast’s leg impacted the wet soil, Zhaggricha drove his warbike vertically up it. Arnef had said that this was physically impossible, but Zhaggricha’d done it plenty of times, so he’d ignored the human. Arnef hadn’t been all that useful, anyhow – Zhaggricha had captured the Mechanicum adept out of curiosity, but when Arnef realized that, he refused to tell him everything interesting. Eventually, Zhaggricha had been forced to let the human go, after taking most of his valuable stuff. Still, he wondered sometimes about how much number stuff he could’ve learned from a cooperative human mekboy. The Ork ones worked less by thinking about math and more by trial and error.
Then the leg ended, and Zhaggricha was on top of the beast. Greenbreaka turned around, a massive bazooka in his left hand, and hurled the gun at Zhaggricha’s bike while sticking the trigger stuck. Zhaggricha swerved left, but he couldn’t go all that far because the animal was too skinny. So he twisted the bike, shielding himself from the massive blast. Still, the vehicle flipped over, dropping him onto the animal’s wet back. Doing a somersault, he leapt up as his warbike was tossed onto the ground in the distance.
“WAAAAAGH!” he screamed, charging at Greenbreaka, who drew two choppas. Zhaggricha already had his sixteen-headed flail in his hands. It was a large and unwieldy contraption, but he’d used it enough to be intricately familiar with it.
The first of the flail’s balls swung at Greenbreaka’s head; the Chaos Ork dodged, then ran straight at Zhaggricha, head held low. Zhaggricha answered by tilting his flail, the individual heads jutting up and down. Greenbreaka was hit once, then twice, his head increasingly bloody, but still he continued forwards; then he jumped, choppas glistening, as the flails’ chains caught him. On the flail now, he got into a comfortable sitting position, choppas ready to plunge into the tiring Zhaggricha.
Zhaggricha dropped his weapon, grasping a knife from – no, his bike was gone! In its absence, he snapped on his knuckles as Greenbreaka ran towards him. The Khornate cultist jumped, and then Zhaggricha, even though he was of the same size as the enemy Ork, was on the beast’s still-moving back, pinned beneath Greenbreaka’s fists.
“You’re the number Ork,” Greenbreaka said, “aren’t you?”
Zhaggricha nodded. He was, indeed, fascinated by mathematics. Wasn’t very good at it, by any standards but Orky, but that’d been enough to make a nickname for himself.
“Then listen,” Greenbreaka said. “All those numbers, all those Gork an’ Morks – they are nothing in the eye of Chaos. We don’t follow any rules. We aren’t scared of anything. Join us, Zhaggricha, and we can get back to fighting enemies of Khorne instead of each other.”
No. The fight wasn’t over – indeed, Greenbreaka would have killed him already if it was – and the Chaos Ork was most likely lying anyhow. Zhaggricha chose his response.
Greenbreaka jumped back, surprised, as Zhaggricha snatched his left choppa, which Greenbreaka had dropped in shock. Then they ran at each other, blades crashing against each other again and again, bone flaking off them.
“The age of brutality,” Zhaggricha said, “an’ cunning, and of orkiness – no matter which year it is, it is not yet past, Greenbreaka. Our true green is eternal!”
Zhaggricha kicked Greenbreaka in the feet, pushing the enemy Ork back, and then Greenbreaka missed a strike, and a punch later the Chaos Ork was hanging off the side of the beast, which was by this point scuttling sideways.
“Your heresy ends here,” Zhaggricha said, raising the enemy choppa for a final strike, “Warboss Greenbreaka.”
Greenbreaka grinned. “I’m not da Warboss,” he said, even as his head was separated from his body in a shower of green blood. Then his arms released, and the body fell into the gray dust below, Zhaggricha raising his arms in triumph.
As the Chaos Orks saw their leader die and broke off into a disorganized retreat, Zhaggricha and the Orange Train shouted in victory once again, preparing for the next enemy.
Karon Jonas of the Righteous Hatred ran.
Kharn the Betrayer, most feared of the horrific World Eaters, zigzagged down the hallway behind him, the Navigator knew without looking. He was bouncing off the walls, crushing good men and women of the Imperial Guard under his mass and axe, and he was faster than Jonas could ever hope to be. There was no time to consider how to fight back, no time for any intelligible last words. Only terror, and vastly insufficient qualities of adrenaline, as Kharn swung his chainaxe, taken from Primarch Angron himself, and connected with Jonas’ neck, an execution of rage-
Karon Jonas, once navigator of the Righteous Hatred, awoke in a cold sweat.
The nightmares had come again, he noted, fingering the scar on his neck. Not from Gorechild, of course – that blade left no survivors. It had simply been a grazing shrapnel fragment from the blast, the last one before he had dragged himself into the escape pod and Admiral Clarris had launched them towards a friendly vessel at last.
Kharn the Betrayer was, as far as Jonas knew, dead in the wreckage high in orbit above Terra. Of course the accursed traitor was still alive, just like he had survived a thousand other shipwrecks through the millennia; he’d been fully capable of reaching an escape pod, and his gifts from Chaos were probably sufficient to ensure he could survive full atmospheric re-entry.
More comforting, still, to think the final moments of the Righteous Hatred had ended the being – for Kharn wasn’t really human anymore – that had killed his ship. That they had done at least some good, at bloody nightfall, rather than absolutely zero.
Of course, the ship hadn’t been his, or even Clarris’s. Jonas didn’t even know whether Captain Astor, in the hellish trenches below, was even aware of Hatred’s loss. Or, really, whether he would care if he was, a position once unthinkable.
Washing his face, Jonas thought back to the day they had first arrived on Terra. Two years before most of the Ultramarines Chapter was cataclysmically lost in the Warp (brought to Terra, of course, to the end of days). Five years before Abaddon the Despoiler engineered, at long last, the First Fall of Cadia. Twenty years before the Chaos Warmaster vanished, and the Imperium began to struggle back from the very brink.
Ten thousand years after all of those events, for the outside galaxy. A time when it was effectively impossible to leave the planet so many would once have given everything to reach, because the orbital battle, though far from the apocalyptic scale of the ground one, was sufficient to effectively blockade escape.
A time when humanity’s (and Jonas’s) homeworld, its ecosystem destroyed decamillennia ago and its population crushed into dust over the months of fighting, played host to one last game of mega-regicide.
Jonas shook his head, droplets of water flying off. He had become obsessed with the past, perhaps, unable to focus on the fragile boredom of the present.
The ship he was now on (along with the Admiral and about five other escapees) was called the Triple Meridian, manned by a skeleton crew. Unlike the Righteous Hatred in its last days, the Triple Meridian was well-equipped with weaponry of all sizes, but had dropped every single human being on board that was not vital to the ship’s survival. Knowing what sort of boarding parties wandered in this orbit, Jonas suspected this had been the correct decision.
He walked out of his chambers (there was no shortage of living space here, at least) and towards the galley. Rations were tiny, grabbed as tariffs from the myriad cargo ships that also found their way into the apocalypse; it was basically piracy, but the Imperial government below (such as it was) had sanctioned it to avoid everyone starving to death.
Besides, the cargo ships didn’t have anywhere to go except the Imperial Palace anyways.
Of course, not all ships that came here were from the time rifts; Imperial loyalists who wanted to defend their god, Chaos hordes under the command of Lorgar Aurelian, and xenos working for mysterious causes all converged on the galaxy’s center. Honestly, Jonas suspected most of these were idiotic fanatics for their various masters. Why else would anyone voluntarily come here?
Not that here, in the specific sense, was at the moment all that uncomfortable; but here in the general sense would’ve killed Jonas twenty times over if all the orbital starships weren’t so utterly lazy.
“Good morning,” Navigator Terit Tarit of the Meridian commented.
“‘Good’ morning,” Jonas mumbled, thoughtfully chewing.
“Oh,” Tarit said, “come on. It’s Winter Day today!”
“And I’m sure everyone just agreed to a truce for that reason?”
Tarit chuckled. “Not on the ground, that’s for sure. In orbit, oddly enough, well… the stalemate is holding, at least.”
Jonas nodded. Truces with Chaos and xenos were unthinkable, officially, and on the ground as well. How they’d reached something (very) vaguely resembling that point in orbit, without any official inter-faction diplomacy, was completely incomprehensible. Not that either Navigator was complaining.
“Any news from the surface?” Jonas asked. “Is Astor still kicking?”
“Far as we know,” Tarit said. “The lines seem to be holding. Lorgar sent out a message, called on everyone to surrender.”
Jonas chuckled. “The Emperor himself wouldn’t be able to stop this mess with words. What about the celestial anomalies?” There had been several of them, ovals and triangles and Mobius strips made of light and lightning across the lower exosphere. Ships had been caught in them and rent apart, but for the most part they didn’t seem to be doing much of anything.
“There’s a new one over the South Pole,” Tarit answered. “Shaped like half a torus. They’re getting more elaborate, Jonas. Some say they’re sentient.”
“Just what this war was missing – lightning creatures.”
“They were present in the Age of the Outsider, in M47,” Tarit continued. “No one knew what they were then, either. After the Europan Catastrophe, they stopped. No sign of them during any of the other cataclysms, but of course none of those were anywhere near Sol.”
Jonas nodded. It had been a true relief, really, when he had learned that – for all of the ground that humanity had lost over those ten millennia – the Solar System had only been threatened once between M41 and M51.
Of course, now it was rather worse than a threat. And the Outsider, well, even hearing about its desolation had been terrifying. The madness of realspace incarnate, the monstrosity, reunified from its shards by an unfortunate series of errors by Eldar, Necrons, and humans, turned star system after star system into something utterly abnormal. Yet this wasn’t Chaos, either, because everything the Outsider created was physically possible (though improbable) and psychically inert. Indeed, any psykers in its swath were affected worst of all by the distortions.
In the end, it had come to Europa, the satellite of Jupiter; and there a united battlefleet, led by the Blood Angels, of humans and Necrons utterly destroyed the Outsider, at the cost of the planetary system, untold lives and unlives, the loyalty of the three-quarters of the Imperium that assumed Terra was corrupted, and the fragile interspecies alliance. At least, that was the official story; many considered it more likely that the Outsider had simply broken into shards a second time. It was a victory, technically, yet it was also without doubt a catastrophe for everyone involved.
The past; a past unlived, skipped through on fast forward, ignored by so many merely because of its distance. But wasn’t the Imperium built around the past of M31? This was about fate, and as such it had always been about all time.
Not that anyone on the surface had time for such philosophy.
“It’s bizarre,” Tarit said. “So much we don’t understand about this mess, yet we go in, guns blazing, simply because we know our foes are evil. And yet I can’t escape the feeling we’re doing exactly what they want.”
“There is no ‘they’,” Jonas said, “is there? There are a bunch of sides, any two hating each other for their own reasons, any one with several secret plots, maybe. Even us. Whoever the real Emperor is, if he’s active, he’s helping humanity in the shadows.”
“True enough,” Tarit said, “we can be confident that there are those fighting for good. Both below and around.”
“Yes,” said Admiral Clarris, hobbling in, “but we’re not joining the fight just yet, eh? To avoid, through doubtful means, getting shot more than we have to.”
“Perhaps,” Tarit noted, “but we’re just trying not to do anything stupid consciously. We’ve done enough without knowing.”
Clarris nodded, and Tarit left the galley, leaving Jonas alone with the Admiral. Clarris cut an imposing figure despite his cane; he wasn’t fully recovered, but his hair, at least, had grown back, both scalp and eyebrows.
“Stability,” Clarris said. “Crucial, Jonas, absolutely crucial in war to have some sort of crutch that doesn’t change. We may not be in battle, but we’re still in the war; so it’s good that we’re still meeting at breakfast.”
“Yes,” Jonas said, formality having been dropped by Admiral’s order, “it is.”
“You had a dream about the Hatred again,” Clarris said, “didn’t you?”
“Yes,” Jonas mumbled.
“I have them every night,” Clarris said. “The worst day of my career, and my career has seen many days. Good thing Astor wasn’t on board; somehow down there was safer for him.”
“I’m not even sure if it’s shock or prophecy,” Jonas said. “Navigators are psykers, after all, and I’ve had dream visions a couple times in my career.”
Clarris shrugged demonstratively. “All I can say, Navigator,” he noted, “is that it’s always good to have a contingency plan.”
“In case the Triple Meridian falls as well, Admiral?”
“Or in case something worse happens,” Clarris said. “I still wonder, you know, about why Kharn attacked the Righteous Hatred of all ships. It’s impossible to know a madman’s cause, of course, but still. I’ve been gazing at the other places the World Eaters have attacked.”
“No idea,” Clarris said. “No symbols inscribed in Terra’s orbit in dead ships, no key materials being gathered. At best, we can say that he chose well-populated ships with large quantities of victims – but again, not in an organized fashion.”
Jonas grunted in understanding.
“Our crew was simply unlucky,” the Admiral concluded.
Clarris left unspoken the fact that the two of them had been lucky; but that was indisputable. Few escaped wrecks the Twelfth Legion was involved in. Jonas was far from the best man on that ship, and his own escape felt particularly undeserved. What use was his promise as a Navigator now, when the Warp was itself deciding where ships went?
They exchanged a few more words, but soon enough Clarris walked off, leaving Karon Jonas to his musings. In several minutes his shift would begin, but until then, Jonas stood once again by an illuminator and stared at Terra.
It was a planet covered in smoke, and when the surface could be seen it was gray anyway. But even from orbit, the signs of war were evident, frequently in the form of explosions. And there was more, an unsubtle psychic pressure that Jonas knew not to investigate closely. The forces of the Imperium weren’t the only ones to have psykers down there.
It was a planet in the grip of desolation. Terra itself, his eternal home. He still couldn’t quite accept it.
It had been easier before, in a time unbroken.
Or had it? Jonas’ task had been more straightforward, for sure, because military hierarchy was intact, and he had chosen to mostly follow it. They traveled the galaxy, defending Imperial planets and attacking non-Imperial ones, as the Administratum decreed. In sum, the past Jonas had simply followed orders, without any contemplation to where all of that might lead.
But he’d known, of course, he’d known like everyone else how hopeless the Administratum really was at managing anything. And nevertheless they’d all done their duty, like everyone else in that millennium. Battles were won and lost. Wars were won, at least the ones Jonas had seen. The wars the Imperium lost left few survivors. Time moved on, greater and greater threats emerging and being cut down. And now, in this shattered epoch, the strain accumulated over ten thousand years had finally exceeded the Imperium’s cohesion, and Terra burned as the rest of the galaxy engaged itself in a three-way civil war.
It was tragic, twenty millennia of defiance culminating in this. It was also inevitable. Inevitable, perhaps, since Heresy’s coda eleven millennia before Jonas’ home-time.
He wondered, sometimes, but much less often as time went on, what became of those he knew that had not been on the fleet. His family, above all – Navigator House Jonas. He should have been missing them more, he knew. Especially since the last time he’d seen any of them was a year and a half before the jump. And with the Houses’ records destroyed, he didn’t even know what had happened to the family as a whole.
Except it wasn’t them that Karon Jonas missed, not really. He hadn’t expected to return to Terra for several more years, after all. No, what he missed were not people, but places. Growing up in the Navigators’ Quarter, he had memorized maps of the region, and in time of the whole planet. Maps which he had correlated with the ship’s radar readings, and despaired at just how little remained.
Had it been easier before, in time unbroken?
Yes. Yes, because he had done his duty and no more, just like nine-tenths of the Imperium; and that had led them here, to the last sacrosanct place in the galaxy turned into the last battleground.
He had been following the path set out for him, and now that the path had been obliterated, he was stuck in a holding pattern, in the skies around the end of ages. A holding pattern that led, unquestionably, to doom.
He would not die in a holding pattern.
“Jonas?” Tarit asked, having come in as the younger Navigator’s eyes zeroed in on a gap in the smoke, at the location of the former Palace of the Navigators.
“Tarit,” Jonas said. “Why are we still here?”
“We’re not doing anything in Terran orbit,” Jonas clarified. “Just watching a planet burn.”
“Eventually the war will start up again.”
“And we’ll die. But why are we staying here? We have no explicit orders – Throne, even if we did, they’d be coming from three different factions. The Astronomicon’s gone, but we know each other – together, we stand a real chance of getting out alive, even accounting for the damage we might get from trying to run the blockade. And I don’t think we’ll be shot at, anyhow, given the current stalemate. Everyone will be too confused for that.”
Tarit stood still, gears evidently turning in his head. “You’re right,” he said, “and I’ll talk to the Captain. But it’s still a nigh-suicidal risk, one we shouldn’t take for no reason. There’s nothing for us on Terra, stuck out of time as we are. But what is there for us anywhere else?”
“Simple,” Jonas said. “Answers.”