We thought it was a mistake initially. Onboard the Imperial Navy frigate Imperium Eternal, we dropped out of the warp at the Mandeville point for Bakka, intent on returning to the Segmentum naval base. When we found nothing, we assumed that the Navigator had become confused, maybe even a little too addicted to the stimms which she thought she had been secretly taking, but which the senior crew knew all about. But as we gradually brought more systems back online, it became evident that this wasn’t a navigational error, something much worse had happened.
The captain ordered a war council to be convened, and there the full horror of the situation became clear. If we were in the Bakka system, then the star and planets had gone. All gone. But so too had every star we should have been able to detect. Our sensors could see for hundreds of light years, but not a single star could be detected. Worse, our astropath had looked into the warp and been unable to find the Astronomican. If we were in the Segmentum Tempestus, then we should have been able to see it. If we couldn’t, then where were we?
The only option was to re-enter the warp and rely on our stimm-addled Navigator.
This isn’t looking good.
Normally the Imperium would roll quite violently as she entered a warp gate, but this time she sailed quite serenely out of realspace and into the immaterium. Within a shipboard hour the Navigator confirmed our worst fears – the Astronomican wasn’t there. Even more puzzling, the warp was dead calm, utterly devoid of the usual turbulence. We could all sense it anyway; the normal oppression and dread felt when in transit just wasn’t there.
If only every warp trip could be like this.
The captain called another war council. Standard procedure in an event like this was to make short hops through the warp, trying to find a frame of reference to navigate from. So that was what we did.
The thirteenth time was the last for the Imperium. She had survived so much over the millenia, kept so many of us safe, but after the thirteenth warp jump the Navigator killed herself, dooming the rest of us to drifting in realspace.
Why did we rely on the mutant?
Despite the Ship Commissar’s best efforts, rumours began to spread, and he was forced to execute dozens on the first day alone for failing the Emperor.
But did the Emperor fail us first?
Soon the Imperium descended into anarchy as reality spread throughout the ship. Death and destruction were used to settle old scores, and false prophets offered salvation to any who would fight for them.
Even on the bridge
I woke up and immediately vomited. I lay there, moaning, and called for help. No one replied. With an effort, I tried to sit up. The bridge of the Imperium was a testimony to bloodshed and violence. There was no-one else alive, not even a servitor, and my hands were covered in blood. I crawled to the sensor suite and work the controls, trying to find someone to talk to. Through the onboard sensors I saw the complete breakdown of order throughout the Imperium.
And I laughed.
I sat there, watching and waiting for the people of the Imperium to die. After another eight days and nights I could see no sign that anyone else was left alive. Whatever madness had infected the crew appeared to have run its course.
For the first time in a long time, I left the bridge and began to wander through the ship. I didn’t see another living soul.
You always wanted to be captain of the ship.
There should have been enough food on the Imperium to sustain my body for years. But the food went sour.
It was raw meat, not sour.
There should have been enough chapels on the Imperium to sustain my faith for decades. But the chapels were desecrated.
You enjoyed that, didn’t you?
There should have been enough work to do on the Imperium to keep my mind busy for centuries. But I didn’t understand what to do.
Turns out that you really are just a tiny cog in a huge machine.
In the last two years, I have not seen or spoken to anyone. I have roamed the Imperium, now powerless and drifting, but there is no-one else here.
No-one to threaten you.
I have tried every vox system, but no-one has replied.
You like the quiet.
I broke into the astropath’s chamber hoping to find something to help me but found only misery and dread.
Can’t rely on a mutant.
Now I am in an airlock, about to leave the Imperium and never to return.
It exists in history alone now.
I turn the wheel to open the external doors. The air vents away, along with my doubts, but I stubbornly hold on to a grab handle. This will be on my terms. If I am the last, then I will leave when I choose to. Once I thought the void was beautiful, full of shining stars and I dreamed of which I might visit next. Now, it is just empty, devoid of light.
I let go of the handle and float out of the Imperium.
I disengage my helmet and watch it float away.
Once upon a time, long ago, there was the end. The end of all things. All things, except me. I am the last. The last of my kind. Maybe the last of any kind.
Am I truly alive if there is no-one else in my life?
I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if the planets stopped spinning and the stars went out. I don’t know if the God-Emperor breathed his last. I don’t know if something from the warp was able to break into our reality and destroy it.
Does it even matter? Nothing lasts forever.
About the Author
Mark Butterworth lives and works in the UK.