Governor Septimus Aurelian reached for the golden belt buckle sitting on his side table. As their sign of office, a governor was expected to wear the buckle with pride, to emphasise the Apollo system’s sworn fealty to the Emperor and his dominion.
The scratches were still there from when the two-headed Imperial eagle was scraped off. Now in its place it depicted a simple gridded sphere. A sigil of Aurelian’s own choosing, and one he took greater pride in wearing.
He sighed and sat up, weaving the brown leather belt around his waist, as he had done so so many mornings before.
Corinth, his loyal orderly, entered the room. Even after all these years, the man still wore the robes of the Imperial church he had long since renounced.
Old habits die hard, Aurelian supposed.
‘The Imperial fleet has entered the upper atmosphere, my lord,’ the doddering Corinth mumbled nervously.
‘How punctual of them.’ Aurelian quipped, before fastening the button at the top of his tunic. ‘Hand me my cape will you?’
Corinth shuffled over to the nearby wardrobe and retrieved the fine gold-bronze vestment. It had a hexagonal pattern sewn into it, harkening to the honeycomb of beehives that were one of Apollo’s most profitable exports.
‘Are the transports away?’ Aurelian asked, accepting the cape from Corinth.
‘Two thirds will have left orbit by now,’ Corinth answered dispassionately. ‘Though with the fleet’s arrival I estimate only about a fifth will get away unscathed.’
Aurelian closed his eyes. The people of Apollo didn’t deserve to share his fate, but if only a fifth could get to safety, then that would have to be enough.
Apollo was a quiet system, far from the Imperium’s core influence. Peaceful, self-sustainable, his grandfather was the first to spark whispers of secession. Of how the Imperium needed Apollo more than Apollo needed the Imperium. This talk was only exacerbated by his father, but it wasn’t until Aurelian’s own governorship began that Apollo finally saw itself breaking out on its own.
But Aurelian couldn’t have done it without the will of the people. Apollo was a system that followed a lot of old traditions, and the overbearing, bureaucratic, Imperial church was notoriously unpopular. The constant demands for soldiers and resources, for far away wars, left the system a powder keg of resentment and rebellion.
All it took was an eager and motivated Planetary Defence Force to muscle out a meagre garrison of Tech Priests that held a forgotten manufactorum on Apollo’s moon. This gave Apollo the means of which to construct a fleet of its own and break clean from an already overburdened empire.
Aurelian stepped out onto the balcony of his governor’s villa. He glanced up towards that moon, looking so small and insignificant next to the legions of looming, gleaming, cathedral ships that now filled the skies.
Once the secession was in full swing, Aurelian doubted that negotiations would be forthcoming, but life had a funny way of surprising him. An insurrection by the Tomb Fleets of Necron Lord Mentempna suddenly made Apollo’s neighbouring systems a critical theatre of war, and, desperate for allies, Segmentum Command was willing to accept terms of independence in return for aid.
It was now plain to see such terms were nothing but temporary.
Aurelian had hoped that Apollo’s successful secession would spark a spirit of rebellion throughout the Imperium. While the Severan Dominate had thrived, and there were frequent defections to the T’au, a mass independence movement never manifested.
Aurelian put his hands on the railings of his balcony. The massive ships were still hovering above ominously. He wondered if they were preparing their shuttles and landing craft, or briefing their legions of troops that would soon sweep down and reclaim what was never theirs to have.
Or did Apollo’s rebellion so wound the Imperial Lords that a greater, more terminal example would need to be made? Even though it was still of great economic and military value, maybe the fleet was preparing virus bombs or nuclear warheads, ready to wipe the entire surface of the planet clean.
Aurelian glanced down at the slate roofs below him. Maybe it would be for the best, complete annihilation, over being brought back under the heel of Terra’s boot.
A thunderous boom then rang out across the skies of the city. From where Aurelian could not see. Possibly reconnaissance ships, or an early deployment of special forces. Regardless, Aurelian had insisted on only a token resistance. Enough time for at least some of the citizens to get away. Let the Imperium think it had won, while a guerilla force would lay low in secret bunkers, ready to retaliate once the time was right.
The fight for independence would continue on. This was not the end of Apollo’s story.
It was only the end of his part in it.
The fleet was beginning to fan out. Like bees from Apollo’s famous hives, smaller ships began swarming down, descending to take the city.
So it wasn’t annihilation today. Only the boot.
‘Was it worth it, my lord?’ Corinth’s raspy voice croaked, as he joined the governor on the balcony.
Aurelian had asked himself that a thousand times. ‘Hard to say,’ he answered honestly. ‘But it made for a beautiful dream.’
Corinth nodded, and reached for something under his robes.
‘What about you, Corinth?’ Aurelian asked, turning to his loyal servant. ‘Was it worth it?’
Where previously stood the shaking and crumpled old manservant now stood a tall and muscular woman, features concealed from head to toe in a black body stocking that seemed darker than the darkest black hole. At his head, she pointed a vibrant green pistol.
‘It is not my place to consider such questions,’ she replied.
‘No,’ Aurelian replied, turning away. ‘Under Imperial rule I suppose it isn’t.’
Taking one last look at the planet he loved, the governor closed his eyes, and waited for her to pull the trigger.
About the Author
Jack has been writing for over ten years and has previous works published by Less Than Three Press. He also self-publishes his own comic books and short stories, which he promotes annually at festivals and conventions. More of his work can be found at his website, linked below.