The Account of a Lifetime

February 29, 2012

The Burning Skies

Filed under: Salamanders,Writing — xisor @ 3:26 pm

Korsi waited in the corridor. A door loomed barely a foot in front of him. The corridor was quiet, the ship sounds themselves only a distant murmur of a far-away crowd, a highway busy in the middle-distance. Imperial & Nocturnian iconography, variations on eagles, skulls and lizards, monstrous and majestic in equal measure, decorated this wing of the Fulcrum. Broadly speaking, it was a well kept ship. The hull-most compartments fell to disarray in place, but on a starship boasting ten thousand crewmen, Korsi heard it said his lord valued pragmatic efficiency first and foremost – sometimes deck plates simply went unwashed for days, or decades.

The corridor itself was one of several concessions to affectation aboard ship. Almost everything was well made, the forge-ships supplying the fleet were proud and stern in their overseeing of technomats, of whom  very least could barely allow themselves to turn in a half-arsed job. Well made, but hardly adorned with more than functional affection would allow.

Three weeks aboard, but this was the first case he would meet his lord. His peers had largely kept their own counsel. The shift crew barely needed direction. Life docked above Prometheus was particularly calm and particularly boring.

The pressure seals around the door hissed. Sweat immediately beaded beneath his collar, not just from anxiety. Scorching air gusted down the corridor, a wave-front of sweltering heat.

“Lieutenant Hars,” a deep voice said, low and muffled, but spoken with enduring clarity almost as if addressed directly into his ear. “Enter.”

The door plates had finally begun visibly unsealing, haze rippled across his vision. A large chamber was revealed as the plates cycled out of sight, the stencilled visage of the 5th Company’s behemoth-emblem split kaleidoscopic by the action.

The granite-grey of the chamber was more earthen than the rest of the ship, plainly a chamber of the Space Marines. Several data-screens adorned the walls, a gargantuan, segmented chalk-board array filled an entire wall alone; no pictures, no icons, no artefacts. A barren, marble cot, suitable for a giant, dominated the base of another wall. A massive brazier glowed as if it were any other bedside table. Several hatches, surely storage spaces, were visible in the pseudo-masonry. In the centre of the room, an adamantium-rimmed porthole bearing curiously familiar markings on its brass shutter poking over its shoulder, stood the obsidian giant. Here was battle-brother O’sen Arcturus, trooper of the Salamanders Chapter, fourth company, beta-assault squad, Lord-Captain of the Gladius-class Adeptus Astartes frigate Fulcrum, Lieutenant Korsi’s commanding officer. O’sen Arcturus opened his eyes, they became the singular, gaze-stealing sight in this remarkable abode.

Korsi took eight measured yet comfortable paces towards his captain and stopped two-foot from the giant. “Lord Arcturus,” began Korsi, acutely aware of the sweat-stains already bleeding across his uniform. “Lieutenant Korsi Hars, at your command.” His head was bowed, he strived not to ponder the peculiar colouring of his master’s toe-nails. Marines, he thought, unnerving regardless. In that instant his hand thumped against his chest, prompting a moment’s discomfort. Too hard, he chastised himself. He hadn’t hit himself that way since the muster for Octavius and the inspection of the Solar Admiral’s Flag-Lieutenant. Arcturus gave no indication of noticing.

“You are commanded,” said Arcturus. The voice, so close, unnerved Korsi from within his own chest. The doors behind Korsi reversed, gliding closed once more. Arcturus turned, the muscles of his feet and legs rippled then vanished from Korsi’s sight. He stood another four foot distant, at a peculiarly informal angle regarding the blank, chalk-mottled boards.

“Mister Hars,” he began, the voice less discomforting but no less precise, no less intimidating. “Please feel welcome aboard. The feudal fleet is a distance, you have noticed, from the Imperial Navy. Your experience and your service is in oath to us and by us in accordance with Kar Duniash. You hold rank with the other Lieutenants aboard, this ship is not yours. I will appoint a commander as and when is required. At all other times, I wield executive authority, as mandated by the Lord of the Burning Skies.”

Arcturus subvocalised something else, something Korsi could not catch. The doors had finally sealed, the heat was distressingly intense, the distractions of all his senses were clouding his mind. The taste of burned paper played across his tongue.

“That said,” his master continued. “The shipboard protocols are to be made known to you in full, the tight-lips of your fellows will come to be something you cherish. You will be instructed in the proper Nocturnian obesiences, have no fear; I must ask one thing of you, however.”

The pause drew out. Korsi became somewhat alarmed that if he allowed the conversation to continue too long, he would no doubt faint or become insensible. “Anything, Lord,” he spoke, his mouth raspingly dry.

“Do not worry on the matter of protocol. Do not be anxious, but similarly, do not resist. The codes are complex, the caveats many: you will learn these, Mister Hars, but do not let them detract from your duties.”

The room seemed to ripple wholesale. Korsi blinked. It didn’t stop, it turned to swaying, jolting. He could feel it, inexorably, his grip on a consistent reality sliding from him.

“Lord,” he tried to gasp acknowledgement.

Korsi awoke, soaking and cold in his own cot, his own sweat. Sounds from the next chamber indicated his valet, a small Nocturnian, was here. “Iona,” he croaked, his mouth parched. The sounds ceased. “Yes, sir?” came the crisp response. “Water.”

He couldn’t be cold. He hadn’t been cold since he had boarded the Fulcrum three weeks prior. The Nocturnian ship simply wasn’t cold.

A moment later, the leaf-green-uniformed valet appeared, bearing a slate tray with flask and tumbler.

“I anticipated this much, sir,” he smiled, his dark skin framing yellowed, jagged teeth. The eyes, at least, were nothing like Lord Arcturus’ – simple grey, a human’s from any number of worlds. He set the tray on the desk and poured a tumbler, holding it for Korsi. He drank greedily.

“He brought me here?”

Iona shook his head, the smile continuing around the words. “No, sir. Arcturus’ serfs oversaw your return, you have acolyte Prebn to thank”.

“Prebn…”

“The fat one.”

Both Iona and Korsi knew Prebn was hardly unfit; he could run up walls, the other officers said and Iona knew. He was, however, bulky. It was Korsi’s time to smile.

“Thank you, Iona. Pass on my thanks. Have some food brought, something savoury, before my shift.”

Iona nodded and left without comment, the smile still etched across his face. Korsi shook his head and rested his head. ‘Regulation nap’, they’d learned it as cadets, tuning themselves to brief snatches of sleep prior to shift-work. Ten minutes and he’d be ready. The encounter with Acturus had his senses hyperactive: the bright sterility of his chamber made the chill of his sodden uniform an acutely incisive sensation. With sleep it could be ignored. Korsi closed his eyes and tried to shift the remaining thoughts from his mind: blazing eyes, damp fabric, cadet no more, Navy no more.

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