The crunch of his boots on the morning frost was the only sound on the parade ground as the commissar strode before the gathered regiment. His face set as hard as the frozen ground as he approached the vox-transmitter.
The regiment stood to parade attention, unmoving despite the freezing wind. The commissar gripped the transmitter in a black gloved hand, his voice stern and unforgiving.
‘For crimes against the Emperor, heretical and unthinking acts and disregarding the chain of command, you are hereby sentenced to execution. Your death shall be an example to all here of the dangers of xenos fraternisation and unthinking actions you have undertaken. May the Emperor grant you mercy.’
He set down the transmitter and nodded to the sergeant in charge of the firing squad. His face was like a stone as he faced the regiment, back turned to the guilty party. The sergeant, face obscured by his helmet, ordered the execution squad’s rifles to aim. He raised his hand.
‘Any last words?’
The prisoner stood tall and defiant.
‘Can you remove the hood, Sergeant? I would see my death.’
The sergeant tore the black hood from the trooper’s head, snapping it forwards. The trooper uttered no noise at the violence and simply gazed at the rifles before him as the sergeant stepped away. His face showed acceptance of what was to come.
With that, the sergeant nodded and lowered his arm. Rifles cracked.
The regiment stood as witness. The commissar never once looked upon the execution.
The trooper sat in the interrogation room alone. His hands were cuffed as he sat at the bare metal table. Dim, second-hand light turned the room into a panoply of shadows. There were murmurs of noise beyond the reinforced door before it swung silently open.
The commissar stepped in. With a nod, the door shut once more behind him.
The trooper was in poor shape. His flak armour was ripped apart from the Eldar weaponry, and his face had dried blood which had come from a scabbed wound across his forehead.
‘Trooper. You are the only survivor of your company, correct?’
The commissar surveyed his wound. Consistent with the brutal Eldar shuriken weapons that had claimed the lives of much of the regiment. He paused to read the data-slate of evidence.
‘According to the reports, you handed over the stone artefacts to the Eldar, whereupon they and their forces retreated from the battle. You had an opportunity to slay the leader of their forces but did not.’
The commissar looked into his eyes, and his gaze was met yet not returned. His eyes spoke of him reliving events before that he didn’t understand.
‘They could have killed me. But I had the charges set to destroy them. I took off my helmet, so I could look upon my death and told them I would destroy the stones. She took off her mask. The witch. She spoke into my mind as she looked into my eyes. Told me. Told me what they were. Told me that it was all they wanted. That they regretted the deaths. I…could have detonated the charges, but…her eyes…they…they…’
‘You failed in your duty.’
‘But it stopped the fighting, Commissar. They left. It saved lives.’
‘The Eldar are treacherous, trooper. They must be destroyed as the Emperor demands.’
“She spoke the truth. Her eyes could not lie.”
The commissar sighed and reached for his bolt pistol. He clicked the safety catch. He raised his arm and looked at the troopers accepting gaze. His face was a sneer of dispassion. His finger curled onto the trigger.
‘In the name of the Emperor, I sentence you to summary execution.’
The trooper met his gaze.
‘I did what was right, commissar. We fight for the planet, and we hold it. We fight to win the battle.’
The bolt pistol remained unmoving. The commissar could feel it calling him to squeeze the trigger. Duty battled a sense of understanding.
‘Your orders were to kill all Eldar invaders. You disobeyed.’
‘But I saved lives.’
Just one quick move, and it would be done. Yet the troopers face warred against it.
‘All the boys and girls in the regiment know it, sir.’
The pistol twitched. The commissar’s face remained impassive.
‘Then your execution must be plain for all to see. You have until dawn.’
The safety clicked. The pistol was holstered. The commissar left the room. The door shut without further noise.
The trooper closed his eyes and smiled.
The commissar emerged last for the execution as he did not wish to be there. He spoke the words he had prepared, for he knew that anything else would betray weakness in his voice. The commissar wore gloves, not because of the cold but to hide the tremble in his hands.
The commissar handed it over to the sergeant as he could not find his voice to give the order. He turned to face the regiment, so he did not have to look. He kept his face impassive throughout because that was what duty demanded of him.
In his quarters, he allowed himself the luxury of a single deep breath and a prayer to the Emperor before closing the case file and filing it away. He poured himself a glass of amasec and nursed it gently whilst pretending to read other reports. His face gave way to one of regret for the loss of life he had ordered for a few brief, precious seconds. He finished the glass.
The commissar put on his mask and went about his duty.
About the Author
Andrew Tebboth is a late-twenty-something in the south of England with 15 years being a fan of Warhammer Fantasy and 40K (with a splash of Necromunda).