Cost and Worth

4/5 (1)

Amber light danced over the ready room as the projected image spun and flickered into focus. Ship icons resolved themselves in dusty air, and were paired with estimated speed and orbital vectors. Two soldiers studied the projection intently.

“This scan was taken two days ago,” Commander Tessouat began, “using undetectable low-aux telemetry. Given this moon’s gravitational well they cannot escape without being seen. They are still there, in geosynchronous orbit. The three ships taken by the Hereteks.” Tessouat gestured to the largest icon hovering over the dead moon. “The Endeavour Light Cruiser ​Sanguine Hind​, and the two Cobra Destroyers that served as her escorts, the ​Sanguine Knave​ and the ​Scarlett​.”

“Destroyers,” growled the Astartes opposite him.

“Yes Sergeant,” Tessouat replied, flinching. The timbre of that one word scratched some primal fight or flight response within the naval officer. Deep purple armor of the Astartes towered over the table, bent towards the still flickering display. The looming figure seemed to absorb the projected light, lethal in its absolute stillness.

Tessouat suppressed a shudder. “We will need to recapture all three ships.” “Not we,” said Sergeant Berk. “My brothers and I.”
“Yes, that is right.”
The Sergeant sighed deeply, “I hate raiding destroyers.”

Commander Tessouat remained still, not sure what to say. A holy warrior of legend expressing reluctance to fight was not how he had anticipated this conversation proceeding. “Sergeant, I am unsur-”

“Enough,” said the warrior sharply. “We will fight. We will accomplish your mission for you. We launch in ten hours when the angle is right. I will study further; you may return to your duties.”

Tessouat stood tall with relief flooding through his body. As liaison for the Sector Fleet, it was his duty to retrieve all ships stolen by the Heretek rebels. Of course the Astartes would accomplish this. “You have my thanks, Sergeant.” He produced the Sign of the Aquila which was returned.

The Commander turned to leave… but then hesitated. His body desperately wanted to flee the presence of this predator, but his mind was screaming in demand for something. Curiosity fought fear, knowing this was his one chance to an answer to a question that would haunt him if he stepped through the door. And so he turned back. “Sergeant. A question.”

The Astartes raised an eyebrow, also not expecting this turn in the conversation. “Ask it.” “You expressed hesitation to take back the destroyers.”
“Not hesitation,” said Berk. “Distaste.”
“I would know why, if you would answer.”

The Space Marine remained motionless, and Commander Tessouat began to think he had transgressed unknowingly. Then a slight smile passed over the warrior’s face as he reached out and expanded the image of an escort ship. “Do you know what this is?”

Tessouat hesitated, knowing many possible answers but not which was correct. Lacking certainty, he chose specificity. “Cobra Destroyer. One point five kilometers, some fourteen thousand crew. A torpedo boat, designed for-”

The Sergeant waved a ceramite gauntlet. “A ‘yes’ would have sufficed. Did you know that, in the service of the Imperium, there are more Navy destroyers than there are Astartes?”

“I-” Tessouat stopped himself. “I did not. Or, I suppose I knew the facts, but had not considered them.”

Berk nodded. “And your mission, this plan. I will send Astartes, irreplaceable warriors, into these ships to fight and perhaps die. Zone Mortalis is cruel. Divided among three vessels we are exposed. Is a destroyer worth the life of an Astartes, Commander? When they are so plentiful, and we are not?”

Tessouat felt sweat beading on his neck as the cramped room grew smaller and hotter. Taking a breath, he replied with the most honest answer he could. “That is an impossibly hard question, Sergeant.”

This made the corner of the Astartes’ mouth twitch up in a smile once more. “Of course it is impossibly hard. If it were easy, I would know and have no need to ask you.”

Grinning despite himself, Tessouat released some of the mortal tension he hadn’t realized his body was holding. Taking a further risk, he spoke again. “A destroyer is an invaluable weapon for the Imperium. It can bombard planets, transport soldiers, protect supply fleets.”

“In other words,” said Berk. “A destroyer can do things that an Astartes cannot.”

Tessouat hesitated, but the Marine did not leave him waiting long. “And you are right to say so. An Astartes is not a ship. We are a fundamentally different weapon to be used in the same war.”

“I cannot say an Astartes is more or less valuable than any ship in the fleet, Sergeant,” said Tessouat. “That is beyond my power.”

“It is beyond all of ours,” replied Berk. “There is no perfect answer to this question. I have ordered Astartes to die to hold ten meters of concrete. I have ordered vessels to their destruction to rescue a single Marine. Both were righteous orders.”

The Sergeant detached himself from the display table, moving to loom over Tessouat, close enough to touch him. “The one true answer, the value of a Marine, is that we are worth precisely this.”

He extended a massive closed fist, turning and opening it to reveal a single bolt shell which he handed to the stunned Commander. It was a heavy chunk of metal, engraved with sanctified markings and the crescent icon of his Chapter on its lethal nose. “My life is worth the moment it takes to put one of those precisely where it needs to be to make a difference. Just as this ship’s life is worth the same, and that of everyone on board.”

Commander Tessouat rolled the munition in his hands, transfixed on it. He made a move to return the round, which Berk abruptly interrupted. “No, keep that one. No human has ever survived me giving them a bolt before, the novelty amuses me.”

Sergeant Berk turned, his stoic expression returning as he began study of the projector. “I will plan the mission now. Leave.”

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