Freedom is a ship that sails on a sea of blood. The blood in question belonged to the crew of our freighter, the Void Clipper. They lay where we had slain them on the bridge. As I manned the helm, one corpse looked at me with a lifeless stare, judging me for my crimes. But I ignored him. The real crime was theirs for blindly following the Imperium and their cursed Emperor.
Venus was standing next to me, gazing into the endless abyss.
‘Regalo, dear: how long until the rendezvous?’
‘Eighty-one hours. Feels like an eternity. I cannot wait to be free and to make you my wife.’
‘Patience,’ she hushed me, ‘the wedding will come. Now, do excuse me while I dispose of the bodies.’
For years I had served on this ship, damned to the same cyclic monotony. The other crew members had their gambling clubs and drinking nights, but I was never welcome. But that all changed when Venus came aboard. She shared my gripes about the status quo. Long into the night we would talk, and I wondered how a woman like her, sculpted and slender, saw anything in me. Her role was to catalogue our ever-changing inventory. Indeed, it was amongst the munitorum crates I first proposed to her. I had no ring to offer, only my total devotion, which she deemed more than sufficient. Thus, we hatched our mutinous plan to take the ship and escape the Imperium.
Yet Venus had become obsessed with a certain cargo container.
‘The captain has been hiding an artefact in here that could assure our escape,’ she said.
‘What kind of artefact?’
‘A secret. A surprise. You will love it. Besides, the captain has locked it. But when we dispose of him, we can search his quarters for the key.’
Sure enough, when the ship was ours, Venus led me to the captain’s plush sanctum, lavished with fine carpets and rare paintings. In the corner, we found a cabinet full of vintage Amasec.
‘Shall we?’ Venus uncorked a bottle. My heart pounded at the prospect of free-flowing alcohol loosening our tongues and clothes alike. As I finished bottle two, Venus was but a single glass in. She seemed more concerned with my lubrication. As the alcohol took its effect, Venus goaded me to deface the room. She ripped a portrait of the captain from the wall, and I emptied my bladder all over it. With bottle number three, Venus began chanting a curse over the Emperor, and I joined in, that is until I vomited. My next memory was lying on the sofa and Venus covering me with a blanket. Consciousness eluded me, but I awoke briefly to see her examining cabinets and drawers with total sobriety. But before I could question her, I again succumbed to the blows of fatigue.
The next day my head felt like a hull-breach. I couldn’t find Venus, so I hailed her on the vox. No answer, but I figured she was still asleep. I made for the bridge to check on the autopilot. We had deviated slightly from our course, but nothing I couldn’t correct.
The proximity alarm startled me, reverberating in my head like an exploding shell. I glanced at the sensors and saw three green dots closing fast on our position. Whoever they were, we couldn’t outrun them. A minute later the computer identified them: a trio of Imperial Sword-class frigates. The comms station chirped as they hailed us. I ignored it, and as if they had anticipated this move, they also transmitted a text message: Void Clipper – surrender and prepare to be boarded.
‘Venus, the navy is on us,’ I shouted down the vox.
She didn’t answer.
My chest tightened. I could only watch helplessly as the three vessels closed the gap. I began praying to the God-Emperor to protect us when I stopped myself. At best I had become a pirate, at worst a bloody heretic. In either case, the Emperor would not hear my petitions.
‘Regalo, darling,’ Venus finally spoke. ‘I finally have the artefact from the locked container. It’s time for the wedding. Join me in the mess.’
‘Wedding?’ I yelled. ‘Have you lost your mind?’ There was nothing I wanted more than to be her husband, but it was hardly the time or the place. Still, she urged me to join her. In a hopeless situation, I would rather die happy.
The mess hall was dark, save for the single flickering lamp. Venus stood beneath its glow, highlighting her toned features.
‘Thank you for coming,’ she approached me and kissed my forehead. ‘I needed time to prepare the ritual.’ She pulled a cord, and a sheet dropped behind her. The lights came on, revealing the corpses of the crew and captain, nine in total, suspended from the ceiling like marionettes, their faces contorted and their limbs at unnatural angles. ‘These are our witnesses.’
I froze, and my heart seemed to stop as I contemplated this horrific sight.
‘But I don’t want these abominations at our wedding.’
From a pocket she took a golden ring, the surface covered in mysterious runes. This was the artefact she had sought.
‘Oh, sweet Regalo. I am not marrying you,’ she wore a sadistic smile. ‘The Lord of Change is my groom, and you are my gift to him.’
The gravity of my sorrow dragged me to my knees, while she slipped the ring onto her finger and began an otherworldly chant. An unseen force lifted me into the air, and an eldritch fire consumed my body. I opened my mouth to scream but made only the sound of a whistling kettle. Although my skin was molten and my bones were shattering, it was nothing compared to the agony of her betrayal. The last thing I saw was Venus embracing her husband, a winged daemon with gangling limbs and a cruel avian head.
Freedom is a ship that sails on a sea of blood. And that blood was mine.
About the Author
Matthew’s students say his Chemistry lessons are interesting and amusing. When he’s not teaching, he’s painting 40k miniatures and posting photos of them on Instagram. He enjoys reading and writing fiction (particularly the dystopian genre) and playing board games and video games. He lives in Manchester, UK, with his wife and three kids. If any of them become vaguely interested in what he does, he will die happy.