Short Fiction

Valkyrie

Valkyrie

An unofficial Warhammer 40,000 Short Story
Written by Andy Clark
Reading Time: 25 minutes

‘Tell me again.’

Sister Aoife looked up at the Interrogator. She had been intent on the bindings that secured her wrists. Not looking for an escape, she knew there was no chance of that, rather she examined the fetters with a detached curiosity. She had never been restrained before and there was a certain morbid fascination to be found in her predicament. 

‘What?’ she said.

‘Tell me again,’ repeated the Interrogator. 

‘For what purpose?’ she asked. ‘You have heard my confession twice now and I expect it has been corroborated by other sources. What more do you need from me?’

‘Humour me,’ said the Interrogator. 

‘Very well,’ sighed Aoife, ‘the planet was overrun….’

Aoife strode purposefully across the landing platform, her hospitallers’ robes flattened across her armour by the powerful jet wash from the idling transports. Around her hurried troops, menials, and servitors, all rushing to gather as much material as could be salvaged in their haste to evacuate. The enemy movements had been tracked by the orbiting fleet, a massive swarm of greenskins rushing headlong towards their position with wild abandon. Forward Operating Base Solomon nestled in the deep canyon of the mountain pass. Sheer cliffs of granite soared towards the azure sky on either side; sharp edged rocks and promontories even the foolhardy Orks would be loath to attempt. The advance would pass through the canyon crushing all before it like an avalanche. The base would be lost, the only question at this point was how much could be saved. 

‘Faris!’ Aoife shouted over the noise. 

The Primaris Apothecary turned towards her, handing a dataslate to a Mechanicus logistician. He raised an augmetic arm in greeting and stepped towards Aoife, reaching up to unclasp his helm. 

‘Well met, sister,’ he said with a smile, ‘I didn’t know you were planetside.’

‘I am here to assist with the movement of the wounded. My order has been hard pressed these last weeks,’ she said. 

‘Aye, my brothers also,’ said Faris. ‘Our losses have been regrettable.’

‘There are no wounded marines here though,’ said Aoife, ‘what are you up to?’

Faris waved an arm to encompass the base. 

‘I am here in my capacity as a marine, sister,’ he said. ‘Machines needed tending to, supplies needed fetching and, well, I was superfluous at the primary landing fields. I volunteered.’

‘Do you have much left to do?’ asked Aoife.

‘Not much,’ replied Faris, ‘The last transports are being loaded as we speak and the Mechanicus are due to collapse the pass soon. I will return with the Overlord after spiking the guns we can’t retrieve.’

‘Then I shall see you at the landing fields,’ said Aoife, ‘my Chimera is leaving now. The Emperor protects brother.’

Aoife boarded the idling Chimera and the engine roared into life, she caught a last glimpse of Faris as the ramp closed and made a silent prayer to the Emperor for his protection.

‘Then what happened?’ asked the Interrogator.

‘You are well aware,’ replied Aoife, ‘just pass your judgement and be done with me.’

‘Not yet,’ said the Interrogator, ‘I would hear it from you again. The will of the Emperor will not be rushed.’

‘As you wish,’ said Aoife. ‘There was a problem at the base….’

Aoife lugged the ammo crate from the back of the Chimera onto the pile waiting to be loaded onto a shuttle. Her power armour made it light, but its size made it unwieldy. Still, she was able to move them on her own while it would otherwise need two guardsmen or a servitor. There were no wounded to minister to, they had been on the first shuttles, so Aoife was happy to do her part, no matter how menial. The landing fields were an exercise in controlled chaos. Navy personnel mixed with Mechanicus and Guard as everyone pulled together to complete the evacuation in time. She paused to wipe the sweat from her brow and looked towards the gates as the ingress alarm sounded. Automated weapons spooled up and targeted the growing gap between the huge plasteel plates as they ground open. A train of transports and light tanks entered. Chimeras mostly, with a few Salamanders laden with personnel and materiel. Last through were a pair of Repulsors. Their gravitic fields crushing the already compacted earth beneath them to raise a pall of dust. These, too, were overloaded. Marines jumped down from the roof where they had been perched and moved out of the way as the tanks glided to a halt in parallel. The side hatch of the lead tank opened and the occupants disembarked. Aoife recognised the flight crew from the Overlord and her curiosity peaked. She went to investigate.

‘Ave Imperator Brothers,’ she called to the group of marines unloading the tanks. 

‘How can we help you sister?’ asked a marine, turning to face her.

‘Should you not have arrived in your gunship?’ asked Aoife. ‘Surely it has a much greater capacity?’

‘Unfortunately not sister,’ replied the marine, ‘the machine spirit of The Siren’s Lament would not be appeased and we were forced to leave without it. Unless it can be retrieved it will be a great loss for the chapter.’

‘I notice Apothecary Faris is not among your number,’ said Aoife.

‘That is correct. The demolition charges failed and the canyon remains traversable Our noble brother remained with a contingent of servitors to cover our withdrawal. The greenskins were almost upon us,’ said the marine.

‘So you left him alone?’ said Aoife, incredulous.

‘Our orders were to secure as much manpower and material as possible for the evacuation. Faris understood this and ordered us to withdraw while he remained to stall the xenos as much as he could. We would not be here if he had not,’ said the marine. ‘His sacrifice shall be remembered.’

Aoife turned and walked slowly away. She found herself at the base of the perimeter wall and climbed the ladder to the firestep at the top. The sun was beginning to set over the mountains to the west, their foothills already wreathed in shadow, and she stared out over the plains in the direction of Solomon base. 

‘You bloody fool Faris,’ she said softly. ‘May the Emperor receive you at his side.’

She made to return to camp when a flash of distant light caught her eye. She looked back towards the mountains, almost certain it had been a trick of the light. There. Another flash, brighter this time. A few seconds later the unmistakable noise of weapons fire reached her ears. Faint, but enough. Aoife turned and leapt the twenty feet down from the firestep to the camp below. By the time she rolled to her feet, she was already running. Power armour and augmetic limbs worked in harmony so that by the time she passed the first group of navy bondsmen she was already a blur. Ignoring everything in her way, Aoife sprinted to the command centre. 

Faris moved swiftly across the open ground of the pass. The massive granite cliffs rose vertiginously on either side of him. Here the pass narrowed to a mere forty meters across. Barely wide enough for a brace of Baneblades to pass without scraping their fairings on the rough stone. He measured three paces then stopped again, kneeling in the dust to dig a shallow hole. He deposited another shredder mine, armed it, then covered it over with dust once again. Three more mines then he was done, there was not enough time to return to the base for more; the sounds of Ork buggies and bikes was drawing close. The roar of their badly maintained machines echoed off the walls of the canyon and made it seem like they were on top of him already. He made light work of the last mines and ran back to the open gates of the base. Blink clicking an icon on his display he closed the portal behind him and assigned a servitor to weld them shut. He wouldn’t be leaving through them anyway. 

He climbed up to the firestep and crouched behind a merlon. He subvocalised a command to the servitors manning the Firestrike turrets to his left and right, ordering them to hold fire until he gave the command. They would never be as effective as a marine gunner but given how target-rich he expected the killing field to be it probably wouldn’t matter. Easing out from behind the crenelation he sighted along his bolt rifle at the ridgeline where the first xenos should appear. He’d done his best with the remaining weapons in the camp. A line of plasma then two lines of shredder mines should give the Orks pause. Or at the very least slow them down a little as they picked their way past the inevitable wreckage. 

The roar from the canyon grew louder. The disparate voices began to coalesce into a single vocalised exclamation of intent. A rage soaked howl that promised death; a wordless cry of destruction that had echoed across countless worlds and heralded their doom. 

‘WAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!’

Faris checked the stack of magazines and grenades was within easy reach and settled his aim. 

Aoife skidded to a halt outside the command station. The tent’s sides were open to the elements, but a unit of Tempestus Scions was barring the approach. 

‘Let me past,’ she demanded. ‘I have urgent intelligence for the command group.’

‘Back off nursemaid,’ said the lead Scion, ‘command is not to be disturbed.’

‘You will let me through,’ said Aoife, stepping forward.

The Scions closed the gap between them blocking her way. Aoife turned her gaze to take them both in.

‘Last chance,’ she said.

A Scion moved to shove her back with the stock of their hellgun. Aoife sidestepped, gripped the haft of the weapon and pulled, throwing the Scion off balance and into their companion. Aoife stepped past them as they tried to rise and moved quickly towards the conference.

She could see the command group surrounding a table. Lit by the pale green of a hololith. Colonel Harkness of the Umbiric Light Dragoons was in a heated discussion with a Navy lieutenant, while a small group of Mechanicus adepts had cornered the enormous form of Captain Menaleus of the Void Tridents. Lord Inquisitor Canverra was examining the hololith and indicating points of interest to members of his entourage. Menaleus noticed her, dismissed the adepts with a frustrated wave, and motioned for the now upright Scions to stand down. He strode towards her and met her determined gaze with his own. 

‘I assume there is a good reason for this interruption, sister?’ he said. ‘The Scions do not take kindly to being manhandled. Especially not from a nursemaid such as yourself.’

Aoife bristled inwardly at the slight but remained calm and gathered her thoughts.

Menaleus stood patiently waiting for her to speak. His sea green gravis armour purred with power, deep gouges in the plate showed clean ceramite where Ork weaponry had penetrated his defences. Like all those who had contested this world he was battered but unbroken.

‘Base Solomon is under attack, my Lord Captain.’ She said, maintaining eye contact despite the difference in stature.

‘I am aware of this, sister,’ said Menaleus. ‘I ordered the withdrawal.’

‘Are you also aware that Brother Apothecary Faris stands against the greenskins alone?’ said Aoife.

‘I have been apprised of this also,’ said Menaleus. ‘It is regrettable. Faris is a fine warrior, his loss will be keenly felt.’

‘He’s not lost yet,’ said Aoife. ‘We must rescue him!’

‘No sister we must not,’ said Menaleus. ‘Base Solomon guards the only viable pass into this caldera, Faris buys us the time we need to complete our withdrawal. This planet is lost, our orders are to recover as much as we can and return to orbit whereupon Exterminatus protocols will be initiated. I will not waste men and equipment on a mission doomed to failure.’

His demeanour softened. 

‘I am sorry sister, I know that you have history with Faris. Take comfort in the knowledge that his sacrifice is not in vain,’ he said.

‘Where is your fabled courage?’ said Aoife under her breath.

‘I will ignore the insult just once sister,’ growled Menaleus. ‘Do not impugn my honour again. Brother Faris is a space marine and, like the rest of us, he does not know fear. We are built for courage. Now I have much to attend to as, I suspect, do you.’

Menaleus turned back to the adepts dismissing Aoife without a word. She made her way out of the tent, ignoring the glares of the Scions as they dusted themselves off, and walked slowly back through the camp.

The first Ork buggy crested the rise, its driver firing a crude weapon wildly as his passengers brandished a selection of massive firearms and clubs. Their evident joy at finally sighting the enemy was short-lived as a plasma mine detonated beneath the front axle, sending the ramshackle vehicle pinwheeling through the air. The occupants were scattered like chaff, hitting the ground heavily. One struggled to rise and had the misfortune of staggering onto a shredder mine that disintegrated him utterly. The respite was brief as more buggies and trikes cleared the ridge. Many were taken by mines, the plasma cooking off fuel and ammunition. Wreckage and bodies began to pile up, slowing the advance. Such was the sheer volume that many got through unscathed only to run into the wall of frag from the antipersonnel mines. The dust began to saturate with blood and viscera, turning the ground into a quagmire. 

Still, they came on. 

The first Ork to make it through the minefields unscathed raised an enormous cleaver above his head and roared his defiance. He was still roaring as his head exploded, the bolt from Faris’s rifle taking him through the left eye. As the body collapsed to the floor it was immediately trampled underfoot. More and more Orks were in view now. The minefield was spent and they captured ground quickly. Faris blink clicked a command and the forward defences engaged. The servitors manning the Firestrike turrets selected targets efficiently. Basic battle protocols prioritised the enemy based on size and proximity. Heavy bolters and flamers mounted on the sides of the gate were indiscriminate, bursts of oversized bolts exploding in xenos bodies, gouts of flame engulfing any creature that strayed to close. 

Still, they came on. 

Faris chose targets as they presented themselves. The press was now so thick and close that bolt rounds were passing through two or three greenskins before the mass-reactives detonated. Bodies were thrown forwards, as well as back. Some impacted on the walls of the base before sliding insensate to the ground to be crushed underfoot. The flamers spluttered and died, fuel reserves spent. The heavy bolters followed soon after, massive hopper magazines emptied completely and to devastating effect. Grenades began to arc over the wall, most falling to the courtyard and detonating harmlessly. Some skittered across the firestep and Faris was forced to gather and throw them back more than once. The turrets fell, bracketed and destroyed by Ork heavy weapons teams. The mounds of dead and injured at the base of the walls grew, greenskins clambered over their fellows to reach the battlements. Grapples and scaling hooks held fast and the xenos began to climb. Faris tossed the last bandoliers of grenades into the throng, activated a final defence protocol and fell back into the base. 

Still, they came on.

Sister Superior Annabelle was supervising her sisters as they stowed their gear for transport. Her cool grey eyes took in the practised movements of her squad as they swiftly gathered their equipment and broke down the camp. Warriors all, the sisters of the Seraphim were exemplars in both devotion to the Emperor and prowess on the battlefield. Annabelle felt a swell of pride but crushed it with iron will as it appeared. Pridefulness was a sin in the eyes of the church and Annabelle would countenance no sin. She heard someone approach and was surprised to be confronted by a hospitaller of the Order of Serenity.

‘Ave Imperator Sister,’ said Aoife.

‘Ave Imperator,’ replied Annabelle. ‘What brings you to us, sister? We are not in need of your ministrations.’

‘I have another matter I wish to discuss with you Sister Superior if I may?’ said Aoife.

‘Very well,’ said Annabelle, ‘speak your piece.’

‘It is of a delicate nature,’ said Aoife, ‘some privacy may be preferable.’

‘Nonsense sister, we have no secrets here. Say what you must,’ said Annabelle.

‘Very well sister. I have need of some wargear. A jump-pack and a sword,’ said Aoife.

One of the battle-sisters overheard and laughed. 

‘What would a nursemaid need with such things?’ she scoffed. ‘You would hurt yourself.’

‘That is not so,’ said Aoife, turning her head and lifting her hair to reveal her tattoo.

‘The Aquilla Resplendent,’ said Annabelle. ‘You were once one of us then.’

‘Until my injuries prevented my return,’ said Aoife. 

‘Why now sister?’ asked Annabelle. ‘Surely you have no need for such things? Your vocation is mercy.’

‘That is true, sister,’ said Aoife, ‘but this is the greatest mercy of all.’

The plasma mines and spare grenades Faris had strung along the firestep had slowed the Ork advance for only moments. There were so many that the loss of a few dozen at the top of the wall had barely been noticed by the throng. The gates were starting to buckle under sustained assault from some heavy vehicle and Faris was certain they would not last much longer. He checked his ammo counter. Sixteen rounds remained in his bolt rifle. He had one final magazine after that and then he was down to his sidearm, Carnifex, and bad language. He ducked back behind his makeshift barricade as another barrage of small arms fire came his way. Orks couldn’t hit a cursed thing normally but if there were enough of them the law of averages came into play. He popped up briefly to put a bolt each into the two closest greenskins then ducked back to prime a grenade. Not many of those left either. Faris looked across the open expanse of the base to the Overlord. The massive gunship sat squat and sullen in the centre of the landing pad. A fortress in its own right, it had refused to fly no matter what rites and imprecations he had tried. Faris considered his options. It was a dead end. Once aboard he would have no options for egress. However, if he could get the weapons systems active there was a good chance he could thin the xenos numbers considerably. One hundred and fifty metres of open ground separated Faris from the gunship. He palmed his last grenades and prepared to run.

Aoife flexed her shoulders, settling the weight of the jump-pack more comfortably. It had been a considerable length of time since she had last flown. Her last fateful mission as a Sister Superior in fact. The mission that had taken her legs, her right arm, her squad, and her vocation. She spun the borrowed sword, the augmetics responded as well as ever. Clumsy at first, they had been adjusted and improved during her time on Laevis IV. Work that had allowed her to become a warrior once more had been performed by the very man she was now looking to rescue. She clamped the sword to her thigh and made her way out of the tent.

She strode purposefully to the tertiary landing pads. Armoured and helmed, she was every bit a Seraphim of the Adepta Sororitas. As such, she was shown deference by the hurrying troops and menials. She soon saw what she was looking for and adjusted her path until she was standing at the primary hatch of an idling Valkyrie. The crew were loading ammo crates into the bay and ignored her as she approached. 

‘Which one of you is the pilot?’ demanded Aoife.

‘I am,’ said a squat man in a scruffy flight suit. Red hair poked free from the sides of the cap he wore and a lho-stick was clamped between his teeth. 

‘Stow your gear, gather your crew and prepare for take-off,’ said Aoife.

The crew snapped to attention and Aoife smiled within her helm. 

‘Belay that,’ said a deep voice behind her. ‘Sister I would speak with you.’

Aoife turned to see Captain Menaleus, a stern look upon his face. 

‘You men carry on,’ he said. ‘Sister. Walk with me.’

Aoife felt hope die as she fell into step beside the massive marine.

They walked in silence until they were well away from the landing pads. Aoife stopped, reached up and unclasped her helm.

‘How did you know?’ she said, looking up at Menaleus.

‘I am a captain of the Adeptus Astartes in primary command of this base and this warzone. You should be disappointed if I didn’t know,’ said Menaleus.

‘I saw it in your face,’ he continued. ‘I have seen that look before in some of the finest warriors I have served with. And some of the most foolhardy. It was the look of someone who will not give up until every option has been explored. No matter what rules must be broken.’

‘I can’t lose him,’ said Aoife quietly. 

‘He is your friend, that much is clear,’ said Menaleus. ‘I have read the reports on the Laevis incident. You fought together. Saved each other. Bonds such as these are not to be taken lightly.’

They continued walking, their steady gait bringing them to the western wall. They climbed together and stood looking out towards the mountains and the distant base.

‘I don’t understand why you would just let him die,’ said Aoife.

‘I do not understand why you will not,’ replied Menaleus. ‘Faris is a space marine. He has been trained and remade into a weapon for humanity. Our lives are brutal, violent, and in many instances short. Far shorter than they could be with our gene-enhanced gifts. Faris chose to make his stand, to give his life so that others may survive. So that you may survive. Would you throw that gift away on a forlorn hope? Does he mean that little to you?’

‘It is not a forlorn hope,’ said Aoife, ‘he can be retrieved.’

‘By one lone sister, a hospitaller at that?’ said Menaleus. He raised a placating hand. ‘Before you start, I know your history, but you are a Seraphim no longer. Even if you were, against that horde you would last moments at best. No, sister, this is not a battle you can win.’

They stared out across the expanse. The night sky was clear, lights moving across the sky showed the tracks of ships in low orbit. In the distance, nestled among the foothills, the firefight raged on.

‘He still lives,’ said Aoife. ‘You can see that as well as I.’

‘Aye but for how long?’ said Menaleus. ‘We owe it to him to use the time he has bought us wisely.’

‘What of the Orks then?’ said Aoife. ‘You know as well as I that their leader will be where the fighting is fiercest. Where, Captain, do you suppose that may be right now?’

Aoife walked away leaving the captain on the ramparts.

Menaleus stared out into the night, a thoughtful expression on his face.

Faris climbed painfully onto the command deck of the overlord. The ladder was short but difficult with the injuries he had sustained. The dash to the sanctuary of the gunship had cost him dearly. The augmetic that replaced his right leg was now a mangled mess of machine parts from an Ork bolt round. His pistol was lost, a heavy stubber taking it along with most of the hand that held it. He had lost count of the minor wounds he had taken after they hit thirty. His left pauldron was all but gone, the ceremite and plasteel taking the brunt of a grenade at the cost of the armour’s integrity. Shards of it were still embedded in his helm, crazing the optics with cracks and static. He released it with his good hand and dropped it to the deck. He fell heavily into a command throne and began the initiation rituals for the defensive systems. The staccato tattoo of weapons impacts on the hull stopped abruptly as the shields sprang into life. Through the canopy,the energy field was a riot of colours as Ork weaponry impacted and was dispersed. 

Faris breathed deeply for a moment, letting his armour’s pharmacopoeia dispense combat drugs into his system, speeding repairs to his wounded body. He closed his eyes.

His respite was short-lived, as a clamouring on the hull alerted him to the presence of the greenskins. The energy field that had stopped the ballistic weapons had not been tuned to prevent the passing of the slower moving Orks. They scrambled around the hull, searching for points of ingress or for anything they could smash. Faris scanned the console and located the point defence weaponry. Saying a silent prayer to the Emperor and the Omnissiah, Faris depressed the activation rune and was rewarded with the whine and clank of ammunition hoppers loading. Moments later the sponson mounted heavy bolters opened up, automatically targeting any greenskins within their field of fire. The effect was immediate and devastating. The Orks unlucky enough to be caught in the open were shredded. Green flesh, blood and viscera exploding into chaff where the mass-reactives detonated. A few made to run, but were cut down in seconds. A grenade arced up onto the canopy, bounced, and then settled on an armoured stanchion before exploding. The armourglass cracked but held. A hush fell over the battlefield then the Orks began to chant.

‘Gorka! Morka! Gorka! Morka!’

Faris risked a glance through the fractured glass. The faint haze of the energy field still held, light blue in the darkness but tinted purple in places where the protection was weakened by damaged emitters. Further out he could see the Orks, a great mass of green as far as the eye could see. Weapons raised above their heads. Back towards the canyon, past the shattered perimeter wall, he could see the throng beginning to part as something massive waddled into view. A vast pot-bellied construction, fashioned in the image of whatever passed for a greenskin deity. Bristling with enormous weapons it stomped clumsily, crushing Orks or their ragtag vehicles alike if they failed to move out of its way quickly enough. A cannon on its left shoulder spoke and a fuel dump a hundred metres to Faris’s right exploded. The greenskins roared their approval. A clutch of rockets launched from a rack on the construct’s back, corkscrewing wildly into the night air. One smashed into the canyon wall, showering Orks with stone shrapnel. Another fell into a close pressed group, distributing them messily among their luckier fellows. The last flew into a perfect parabola and Faris watched in horror as it peaked and then fell directly at the Overlord. He braced himself. The world shook violently and he was pitched about the cabin knocking his head hard against the control panel.

When Faris came to he felt cool air on his face, the smell of fire and fyceline filled his nostrils. The cabin was full of smoke from a fire somewhere in the main decks below. It was exiting through the now open canopy, shards of armourglass all that remained of the panels. The whole ship was listing at an angle and Faris struggled to right himself back into the throne. He assessed the systems quickly, most were showing fatal damage, whatever ordinance the Orks had loaded into the rocket had been hugely powerful. The engines remained dead, main reactor idling, most point defence weapons destroyed. He risked a glance out of the remains of the canopy and saw the Stompa drawing ever closer. The shields were gone, the telltale blue sheen nowhere to be seen. He ducked back and assessed his options. The only weapons that he possessed that might take out the greenskin behemoth were the Desolator Lascannons mounted on the wingtips. He checked the system runes. The right was inactive, obviously destroyed by the impact of the rocket. The left remained operational but was now canted skywards. He would have to wait until they were nearly on top of him to fire. He just hoped they had the patience to delay their attack until then.

‘How could you possibly know what he was thinking?’ asked the Interrogator.

‘I knew the man,’ said Aoife, ‘from that I was able to surmise a likely chain of events from the events picked up by the fleet auspex. Are we done? Or do you wish to hear me tell it a fourth time?’

‘I think that will be enough,’ said the Interrogator. ‘Sister Aoife, Hospitaller of the Order of Serenity, you are hereby charged with dereliction of duty, illegal requisition of restricted weaponry, and acts of insubordination against the servants of the Emperor. You will be..’

The heavy door to the cell opened with a hiss. A marine was silhouetted in the frame.

‘You are done here, interrogator,’ said Captain Menaleus. ‘Sister Aoife is to be released into my custody.’

‘This is most irregular, Lord Captain,’ replied the Interrogator. ‘The judgement of the Emperor shall not be impeded. My master will hear of this.’

‘Inquisitor Canverra is already aware.’ Said Menaleus. ‘We have discussed the case at length. He agrees that this campaign has already cost the lives of too many loyal servants of the Golden Throne, we will not lose another to zealotry. I am certain you will find others to practise your skills on but, for now,  you are finished. Stand down.’

Menaleus stood to the side. 

‘Sister, you may go,’ he said. 

Aoife stood and walked out. She didn’t look back.

The world turned in the void, unaware of the fate that was due to be visited upon it. The fleet had moved into position and bombardment was to commence. Squadrons of naval destroyers patrolled near space to cut down any greenskin vessels that may attempt to escape.  Aoife stood before the armourglass viewport and rubbed her wrists. They were sore from where the bonds had cut into them. From her vantage she could pick out the single ocean and the cities that lined the coast. She couldn’t tell if they were illuminated with fires of industry or destruction. It wouldn’t matter either way. The terminator crept slowly across the planet and with it the great palls of smoke became visible, staining the sky.

‘Strange is it not?’ said Menaleus beside her. ‘From up here, you would not guess the strife that has befallen the planet. Or the judgement that will soon befall it.’

‘No, my Lord,’ said Aoife.

‘Menaleus, please,’ said the captain, ‘I think I’ve earned that much.’

‘Very well, Menaleus,’ said Aoife.

‘You asked me about courage sister, I believe I owe you more than the rather trite explanation that my type knows no fear,’ said Menaleus.

‘As you wish, my Lord. Menaleus,’ said Aoife, correcting herself.

‘The Astartes are not like base humanity, sister,’ said Menaleus. ‘It is true that we do not know fear as you do. After nearly two centuries of war, I believe I understand why. Fear is learned, it is a response to events both internal and external in the lives of man. We cannot learn as you do though, for we are taken as children and made into something more. We cannot know fear because the indoctrination and training we receive elevates us.. There is nothing we cannot face, so there is nothing for us to be frightened of. That is the official line. And that is a lie.’

‘The truth, I believe, is more complicated,’ he continued. ‘We cannot know fear as we cannot know love. Fear is, after all, the reaction to imagined loss, be it of ourselves or of that we hold dear. I also believe that, while we are capable of great martial feats and self-sacrifice, we cannot truly be courageous, for courage is the act of fighting against fear itself. We fight for you but we will never be of you. It is our blessing, and our curse.’

Menaleus began to walk away, Aoife turned to look at him for the first time. His armour shone, the dust of the planet scrubbed away and the damage repaired. She wasn’t certain, but the faint marks of repair seemed to reveal more wounds than there had been when she had seen him last.

‘You’re wrong Menaleus,’ she said. ‘Faris’s actions were not those of a machine. It was not simple duty that guided him. It was fear. Fear for us, fear that he would fail us, fear that he would lose us and we would lose each other. And in that it was an act of  courage, my Lord. It was an act of love.’

‘As you wish, sister,’ said Menaleus and walked away, ‘as you wish.’ The ship vibrated beneath her feet as the first cyclonic torpedoes were launched, a low rumble that sounded the death knell of an entire planet and her people.

Aoife turned back to the portal and watched the world burn.

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. This is his first foray into writing 40k fiction.

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