The Last Embrace
An unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Short Story
Written by Andy Clark
Reading Time: 5 minutes
Promotion ceremonies were always on the primary flight deck. They told us it was because it was one of the few places on the ship that could accommodate us all. They were right of course, the Avenger class Grand Cruiser, Cetus Vindicta, was crewed by tens of thousands of personnel. Even accounting for shift rotations and duty rosters there were still nearly five thousand of us lined up in ranks. There were other spaces that might have worked, the primary strategium perhaps, that massive auditorium was imposing in its own right and as the marshal centre of the ship it would certainly be apposite.
Personally, I think they held them here for the view.
Ranks of Arvus lighters, inter-fleet tenders, and Fury interceptors rested on racks in the gargantuan space. Machine spirits bearing witness to our pride.
The command staff stood in their finery upon the dais, dress whites, deep martian reds, and the flamboyance of the psykers awaited us, but my eyes were drawn to the backdrop for behind them was the atmospheric shield, that curtain of hazy blue energy that held back the night.
When my name was called, I marched down the aisle to receive my pips, Fenace’s pips I reminded myself.
Seeming ages passed but at last I was in front of the man himself. I couldn’t meet his eye, so I stared at the array of medals and citations that adorned his barrel chest. A constellation of past glories played out in burnished gold and adamantium.
He finished pinning the insignia to my collar and held out his gloved hand. A second’s pause and I took it and looked up as the frisson of contact ripped through me. I held his gaze at last, cool grey eyes meeting their counterpart.
‘Congratulations Captain,’ he said.
‘Thank you, sir,’ I replied.
I thought of much more to say as I returned to my rank, but the moment had passed. There would not be another.
The first time I sat in the cockpit of a Fury I knew that was where I belonged. I was seven standard Terran years old and we were on a rare excursion from the schola. The fleet sat at anchor for resupply, and we were granted leave to tour a secondary flight deck.
I fell in love with it. I couldn’t really see out of the canopy, my legs dangled, and all the controls were tantalisingly out of reach, but it was perfect.
I remember the smell most of all. Fyceline and promethium, sacred oils and unguents, ozone and lho. There was an odour I couldn’t place, I wouldn’t for a long time, a mixture of sweat and something metallic.
The gross hide and canvas of the seat seemed to pull me in, holding me in place despite being made for someone of much greater stature.
It was the first place that truly felt like home in years. I made it my mission to return. Eventually I did.
They found me tucked into her side, my little arms reaching as far across her chest as they could. I cowered under the blanket as they approached, drawing back into the darkness to hide from the inevitable truth.
She was cold, my mother, the lung rot that plagued so many of the crew, a symptom of bad circulation and recycled air, had taken her while we slept. I knew she was gone of course, even at four I knew. I just didn’t want it to be true. If I just held onto her a little longer, a little tighter, it would all be alright.
I saw my father then as he spoke with the medicae. Not the grand and superior admiral yet, just an ambitious first lieutenant. I watched as he signed a data slate and waived in my direction, towards the fabric sanctum I had built, a child’s impregnable fortress.
They gathered my mother’s remains and I was left alone for a time. I was making patterns with droplets of condensation when the adepts came for me. I told them I was painting the sky.
<…3 targets Aquarians, take them out. 14 and 17 with me, let’s bracket the leader…target lock, they have a lock…missile incoming…we’re hit! Eject! Eject! Eject!>
The battle is nearly over. Even floating in the void I can see that. Main line ship battles take place over vast distances and as I gently rotate, I catch glimpses of lance fire reaching out to scour the xenos ships, broadsides erupting into cascades of flame.
Free from the cockpit I observe in silence, just my breathing and the tell-tale of my beacon to keep me company.
Once last salvo and it’s over. I don’t see the xenos vessels flee but they must have gone for the battle ends abruptly.
I wait patiently. Hours pass but the lighters aren’t launched. The fleet reforms itself around the capital ships, scattered assets pulling back. Drives light up, pushing away from the battle sphere and the detritus of war. Out towards the mandeville point and the next engagement.
I wonder who will get my pips next?
Will they think of them as Illianna’s pips?
Will my father speak at the service for the lost?
Did he ever think to find me?
Did he think of me at all?
The questions go unanswered as I drift away.
Wrapped in starlight.
About the Author
Andy Clark is an avid reader of all things Warhammer having rediscovered the setting with the Horus Heresy series. He’s recently got back into painting models after a two-decade gap and wonders why he ever stopped.