A horror in ink. I placed the reports on the table, quickly covering it with a cloth when I heard the door unbolt and a chuckle from around the corner. ‘Amelia? Home already?’
‘Yes Daddy!’ She giggled as she dumped her bag just in the doorway and flung herself into my embrace.
‘How was school today?’ I slowly walked into the kitchen. She was hanging off my arm, so I took my time – I didn’t want her to bump her head on the door frame. As she began I picked up some overripe apple-peach from the cupboard and lit the stove.
‘Well, today the teacher said I did really good work on my drawing. I drawed a Kelbi tree! Then I had lunch with my friends. Then we had a funny man wearing funny robes come and read to us! It was bor-ing but the teacher said I shouldn’t say that. What did you do today?’ That cheeky smile was one to lift the heavens, but there was a grey cloud overhanging.
‘Just some paperwork… might’ve been more boring than your day.’
‘N-uh, I had to sit down for ages just listening. They didn’t do any numbers or reading today, but they said we can tomorrow!’ With a bounce in her step, she clambered up the drawers and perched on the counter. ‘Is that for me?’
I swatted her away as she cheekily tried to snatch one of the treats from the pan. ‘I’ll bring it into the living room when it’s done. Go on, you can put on something to watch this evening, and we can all spend the night at home. How does that sound?’
The only reply was a very enthusiastic ‘Yay!’ as she rushed to the holoprojector. It was barely minutes until the opening of Cain’s Heroes started blaring out from the other room. Joyous fanfare and drums were buried beneath the darkness. Finishing up the fritters, hot oil spitting off the pan onto my face and skin, I was numb but distracted. The reality of the situation was starting to set in.
After distributing the snacks, I started dinner. Grox-steak skirt, fried carb-noodles and desert corn. As the food was put in the pot, grill-tray on the stove and the arid dust deposits wiped from the plates all I had left were my thoughts, propaganda-soaked holo-dramas and Amelia. Her laughter and cheering stuck in my mind. The pull of those words in print left on the table. It was toxic. Pumping through my blood like a lethal venom.
Amelia was happy playing with her toys and watching the show – how she spent many evenings while I was busy – yet today I said nothing. Dull. Everything felt dull, the images blurred and sound lessened. Reality was slipping away from me. She even showed me something she drew at school, but I couldn’t see the colours from the page and just smiled, nodded and praised how well she drew. She likes drawing.
Mercifully, a warm hand on my shoulder and those velvet soft violet eyes that I fell in love with brought me back. ‘Hey honey, are you alright?’ The dark melted away underneath a warm rose-tinted veneer when she spoke.
Ila’s words always made me happy. Just the sound of them. From the very first ‘Whoops’ that put me in the Chirurgeon’s office with a broken foot, and the other half-dozen other acolytes with more noble injuries to the ‘I do’ of one of my happiest days there was something there that helped me find myself.
‘Y-yeah… work was just a bit tough today. That’s all.’ I took a deep breath in and continued, ‘I’ll serve up dinner, it should be done by now.’
Ila stole a kiss and smiled ‘It is, I had to turn it off when I got in. Thank you for making my favourite, reminds me of when we used to sneak out and goto Cisco’s. I’ll get changed quickly while you do that. Amelia! Come help Daddy set the table!’ There was a groan and the holo-drama froze, followed by the pitter patter of slippers on the kitchen tile as Ila waved and went to change out of stuffy Munitorum overalls. The aroma of the spices washed over the kitchen, hot food plated up with dry synth-veg.
Dinner was quiet that evening and the food was well cooked and flavoured exquisitely, something I managed to get right today. There was the usual ritual exchange of ‘How was your day?’ and ‘What did you do at school today?’ as we tucked in. It was nice. Once their plates were cleaned up the three of us retired for an evening of holo-drama.
With the sound of gunfire eerily close, we sat bundled in blankets with a frightful – overall entertained – Amelia nestled up between us. Quaking and flinching at the bloody gallery of purple-skinned Xenos parts flying, she hid mostly under the covers and ‘took cover’ against me. ‘I don’t want you to get nightmares, should we-‘ before I could suggest something else both of them shushed me. They had made up their minds already.
The rest of the evening was so lonely. I was trapped there with my thoughts. Surrounded by an ocean of love and care, this black mark on the soul not only left me stranded, but locked the kindness just out of reach. Like there was a ghoulish form at my feet, staring directly at me. Sitting there baring its teeth with a devilish grin, constantly counting us with an outstretched finger in some hellish whisper:
Negative, Positive, Positive.
It was just after the end of the series when Ila switched off the screen and announced: ‘It’s getting quite late. I think it’s bedtime. Off to bed little lady.’ Amelia looked up wearily with a yawn, before hugging both her parents then heading to bed. After tucking her in, reading her a story to make sure she falls asleep, Ila returned to the living room and sat beside me. The look of dreadful worry on her face told me everything I needed to know. It was obvious. I can’t hide it from her. I shouldn’t.
‘Come here, it really does look like you had a long day.’ She wrapped her arms around me, pulled up the blanket and ran her fingers through my hair. All I could do was tremble and listen to her voice as the veneer cracked.
‘Baby don’t worry, I’m here for you. I’ll be here for as long as you need me.’ In any other situation. This warmth… This compassion was usually an Emperor-sent blessing to lift me from the depths. Now it was the walls of the sorrow pit greased. ‘If you can’t find the words right now, I’ll ask. Do you feel up for talking about it? Just a nod if anything.’
I nodded… I need to tell her.
‘Was it about the accident at the power plant? Someone you knew?’
I didn’t know them.
‘Are you being deployed somewhere?’
I couldn’t tell her.
‘You need to talk about it. We both know that. Please, it’ll help… We’re not going to see each other for a while… are we?’
I couldn’t move.
‘If you are finishing up the work here finally and get reassigned off-world I could put in my notice for a transfer. Don’t worry about it, we’ll find a way.’
I cried. She didn’t deserve this.
‘It’s okay, we can just sit for now. We can talk tomorrow – I’ll take the day off – just you and me. Don’t worry, everything will be okay.’
No. It won’t.
I could only savour the moment, bleeding out my soul in front of her without a word knowing she cared. Misplaced care. Praying for forgiveness. The last of my fears drained from my head as I lulled myself into sleep, the rhythm of her heartbeat keeping me grounded for now.
It was the early hours of the morning and I didn’t want to move from her pampering embrace. I had to. I slowly dragged myself out of the unearnt comfort I had lost myself in, replacing the blanket over Ila. I got my things, and made sure the doors and windows were locked.
First I entered Amelia’s room, I couldn’t bear to say goodbye when she was awake. So I did then, quietly pouring out all I had to say to the floor of her room before I stood over her like the reaper. I pulled the trigger.
If only you were never born.
‘Jakob? What was that? Are you okay?’ Ila’s voice called out from the living room.
Negative, Positive, Positive.
It wasn’t me. I didn’t. I couldn’t. The burnt smell of hair and flesh filled the air, sizzling on my skin. The footsteps grew louder. Nostrils barraged by charred brain matter, eyes lit by the precious bone ash dashed across the headboard.
I couldn’t let her see this.
I aimed the smoking barrel at the doorway, poised to strike. I hesitated. It was too late. That scream. I can’t get it out of my head.
Ila ran. Bashing on the doors and windows as she went, as fast as her delicate feet could carry her. Even if my hopes were raised by the sound of broken glass, the grim reality that the windows were too small to crawl through shattered them.
I shambled down the hallway, each foot heavier with every passing step. As I passed our bedroom, I could hear it. Panicked breathing. Not mine, I couldn’t bring myself to draw a breath. My muscles felt like they were on fire as I nudged the door out of my way to see the bundle of flesh and fright, eyes boring into my heart. Crystal clear purple in the darkness, as beautiful as the night I first worked up the courage to look into them and confess my love for her.
As I raised the laspistol, I saw a glint of metal in between her fingers. Tremors clattering the shells inside the barrel, Ila raised a stub gun back at me. One I’d given her for self defence, when we first moved onto this part of the planet. She was shaking more than I was. Why?
‘P-please… don’t kill me.’ All the words she could make out.
‘How could you? Why? I-I’ll shoot.’ The gun was barely pointed at me. Tears welling under her eyes.
Negative, Positive, Positive.
‘Do it. Shoot. Save yourself.’ Like some untamed beast my voice bellowed in response as I pounced, wrestling the path of the round through my skull gazing deeper into those eyes.
‘I can’t do this to you! You have to kill me.’
There was no love in those eyes, just horror with unfamiliarity at the stranger bent over her with a fist full of hair and a muzzle against his brow.
‘Be a good soldier. Follow orders. Pull the trigger.’ I couldn’t help but snarl.
‘I’m sorry.’ The clunk of the metal falling against the carpet was the last straw. She made me do this. I pulled the trigger.
I looked into her remaining eye, framed by salt crust left by flash vapourised tears and snot. I couldn’t risk it. I pulled the trigger again. Again. Over and over, until the power pack was out and every trace of the woman I loved – who somehow loved me – was just a stain on the wall. The world was spinning, I couldn’t help but just fall. Even after hard tacked wooden boards collided with my skull, a sickness gripped my waking mind and I just kept falling.
A burning halo cut through the window and heated my cold dead expression. The morning sun. I didn’t do it. From the floor I stared at the table, I reread the test results but still couldn’t bear it.
Genestealer’s Kiss. Distant DNA testing.
Negative – Jakob Spesn
Positive – Ila Spesn
Positive – Amelia Spesn
Laspistol in hand… barrel pressed hard against my temple. A new power pack lodged into it. Hallowed blood, dried and spattered across my face, arms and hands. I’m sorry. Emperor forgive me…
Images flashed across my vision as the self-trained bolt slipped out of my grasp. Buzzing, voices, flashing lights.
‘You are His Holiness’, a judge of our Lord Emperor. Your sentence, final. Your dedication, eternal. Your service, until death.’
I didn’t pull the trigger. I couldn’t. The icy grip of the Ordo holding back my index finger, not even letting a merciful flicker of pressure that would grace my home with yet another corpse. My training, conditioning was to blame. ‘A stomach for the job comes with time,’ I was told back at the Schola. No time could wash away these sins. My orders were finally complete. The end of the cult I was sent here to destroy, twenty-five years of my life…
Even now, the viewscreen showed high gothic orders emblazoned with sigils, seals and purity crests displaying my future orders. Ordo Xenos; Purge; Foul Xenos, repeated over and over in my mind. They weren’t. They were my love and joy. How could I do this?
I laid in the corner, with her small broken body in my arms. I wept. This was the Emperor’s mercy I gave her. I found the words Ila asked for. ‘I need you. Stop me. I don’t want to see anyone hurt. Take Amelia and go, leave me and never come back.’ If only I had said any of that when I had the chance.
I just sat there in the sand and the dust and waited. They arrived. First a few Stormtroopers, who ransacked the place and dragged my listless body outside still clinging onto her. I can’t leave her, not ever. An ashen film sat upon her skin as flames engulfed our home.
One of them knocked me to the ground with the stock of their hellgun and dragged her away, while two others fought to drag me in the opposite direction. But I couldn’t overpower them, and I couldn’t watch as they burned her. The sound of them stoking the fire brought my spirit to burn with her.
After a few well placed kicks knocking me onto my back, they began to drag me. I heard the jeers and insults as hot sand tears away my skin. Pondering on what fate had in store for me, front duty or punitive torture I didn’t care. It was just noise.
It was all gone. There was nothing left for me. Just a spectre. Only in death does duty end, but I’m not the one who gets to decide when it’s my turn.
About the Author
Chris is a long-time fan of Warhammer 40,000 and an aspiring science fiction author. He grew up in a mixed household in England and has been interested in different cultures, beliefs and writings for my whole life because of it, which has thoroughly influenced his work. He found the hobby in 2016 at school and has since then made myself a self-proclaimed aficionado of the setting’s lore.