Captain Vedmundr shook his head and muttered a curse as he studied the contents of the data-slate. At one point he shrugged his massive shoulders and closed his eyes almost in despair. His pace did not falter for a second, as he made his way along the dimly lit corridors of the habitation decks.
Menials and Naval crew gave him a wide berth, sensing his increasingly belligerent mood.
He walked this route twice a day, and could do it with his eyes closed. Every morning and every afternoon, after a light snack and a mug of strong caffeine, he would make his way from his dormitory to the Comminus Pulvis, the company’s battle cages and carry out his ritual workouts, before moving on to matters of the day. In the morning he would usually have a light session of sparring, followed by weapons drill and cleaning, and in the afternoons, The Emperor Wills it, simulated combat scenarios or a multiple attack simulations, depending on his duties. Today he would go toe to toe with a combat servitor, and secretly relished the idea of destroying its mechanisms and pulverising it into scrap. The Master of the Forge would curse him of course, but what did one expect from a man who loved machines more than he loved his fellow man.
He was only wearing a light robe today, with a towel slung over one shoulder,
Two paces behind him was his bodyguard and mentor, the tall brooding form of a battle-brother in Mark 6 ‘Corvus’ armour. Under one arm, he carried the red-painted helmet of a veteran sergeant. The armour was a relic from a bygone age, lovingly cared for over the centuries by the Chapters most senior Artificers. The man inside the armour, a white-haired behemoth, bore the scars and grafts of a thousand battles and was probably three to four hundred years old. A blue Imperial Aquilla tattoo was etched onto the left side of his craggy face and three loyalty studs were set in a creased brow. He wore a grin that looked as much out of place as his suit of armour.
“Squad!” came a deep baritone voice followed by a loud clump, as boots slammed down onto the metallic deck.
Vedmundr ground slowly to a halt and looked up. The latest fleet communiqués would have to wait… for a moment, while he dealt with this latest… incident.
A squad of ten Marines were lined up along one wall like marble statues.
The first thing the Captain noted was that they were in full battle armour. The second poignant thing was that the armour was highly polished, complete with awards and medals. The third thing, the most noticeable of all, was that several of them bore wounds… unreported wounds.
“Squad Thorvald, requesting your permission to carry on, Brother Captain”.
Vedmundr passed the slate back to the veteran marine and brought himself up to his full height. With their Imperator armour and ceremonial cloaks, the squad looked very impressive, but the Company Captain still stood at least a foot taller than them and was almost as broad. He looked at the squad leader, and then at the wound to his face. A row of sutures lined its length, and the bruising had turned to a sickly yellow and light brown. The Captain noticed that one of the men’s arms was in a sling and another had a hand swathed in bandages.
Vedmundr raised an eyebrow, his forehead furrowed.
“What in the Emperor’s name has happened to your squad, sergeant?”
Thorvald gave a slight shrug of the shoulders and grinned.
“I work my men hard, Brother Captain. We like our exercises to be… as realistic as possible”. The veteran marine behind Vedmundr suddenly coughed. The captain turned. If it had been a split second earlier, he would have caught the old marine smiling.
“Have you a malaise sergeant Yorik?”
“Phlegm, sir, damn phlegm. An unfortunate consequence of over-exposure to toxic dust on Hingham’s World. Now if I find some time between my duties, I might tell you about that…”
“I think you should get the Apothecary to check it out, just in case’, Vedmundr interrupted, he turned back to the squad ‘Yes, yes of course sergeant Thorvald’, he paused, looked the squad over one more time and turned to go ‘you may carry on, sergeant”.
Vedmundr called the old marine over and took back the data-slate. He glanced back at the squad, who remained at attention, immobile. The captain looked distant, distracted almost, and his mind appeared elsewhere. He unconsciously scratched the side of his face and tapped the date-slate against the side of his leg. He faced Thorvald.
“There have been’, he said matter-of-factly ‘unconfirmed reports, of military activity on Funada Praxis, prior to the main assault by our Liberation forces. Have you heard these… rumours sergeant?”
Thorvald shrugged again “I Can’t say that I have, Brother Captain. But you know what idle men are like, they…”
“And reports of Astartes in the City itself?”
“No Brother Captain, I… we know nothing about that either”. The Captain eyed the group suspiciously and pointed at Hufud’s hand.
“Your hand, are the injuries bad?”
“I have lost two fingers, Brother Captain’, he looked sheepishly at the marine next to him ‘a momentary lapse of concentration with the Gladius. A minor inconvenience… sir”.
“Indeed. I hope you will be fully fit soon. We are leaving this system within the next few days and I want you all ready for immediate re-deployment”.
Thorvald beamed a smile “We will be ready’, and then he hesitated for a second ‘Er, Captain, could you join me on the mess deck. I have something to show you”.
The Captain turned to the veteran Yorik, who merely shrugged his shoulders.
“It seems my training must wait”
“It should not take long, Brother Captain”.
Thorvald lead the way, with the Captain a pace behind. Yorik remained in the corridor as the rest of the squad crowded in around him.
The glow-globes came on and the Sixth Company mess hall was illuminated in bright light. On either side of the central aisle was a row of fifty marines, dressed for full parade. In the centre was a table, and on top of the table was a large silver dome. Two Neophytes’ in dark fatigues, hovered either side of it, their heads bowed in reverence.
Vedmundr found himself drawn to the silver dome. As he approached, the Neophyte’s lifted up its lid before backing away into the shadows.
Resplendent in the Chapters colours, was an accurate representation of a Thunderhawk gunship.
“It’s to a one in twenty scale, Captain”.
Vedmundr nodded his head and glanced at Thorvald, who had moved up alongside him.
“I have only seen the likes of this in one place… “
“It is indeed a work of art”, added Thorvald.
“May I?” asked the Captain.
Thorvald nodded “Be our guest”.
Just below the right side of the Thunderhawk’s cockpit was a silver Aquilla. Vedmundr stuck his right index finger between the eagle’s heads. The Aquilla split apart to reveal a soft brown interior, laced with streaks of white and red. The captain dug deep and recovered a large lump of the ships interior. With reverence, he placed his finger in his mouth and closed his eyes.
“Royal Icing, Funada Génoise filling with a hint of Holy Crescent Cognac I believe”. He turned to the sergeant ‘There’s only one place in the entire system that makes cakes like this”
“We were in the vicinity, we could not resist it”
“Ma Buxton’s Cake Emporium on Funada Praxis?”
“How did you know?”
“We are the reconnaissance Squad; it is our job to know Brother Captain”
The Captain turned to the assembled men and nodded gratefully.
“Well, what can I say?”
“Let’s hear it for Captain Vedmundr”
“Happy Birthday, Brother Captain!”
* * *