Captain Prabu turns the pistol over in his hand, thinking: my men. Then, resolved: my village.
In front of him, Tower K rises black and monolithic in the soft Rijan night. To the right stretches the outpost’s outer fence, wire-tipped steel zigzagging off into darkness. To the left is the heavy west gate. Inside the tower a sentry watches the road through bulletproof windows. It mounts a couple remote guns, but the real defences are about sixty metres back, a pair of heavy bolter nests trained on the gate. Prabu knows this because he lives here.
He also knows because he’s rehearsed tonight dozens of times.
The six-minute walk to the tower is always clean, and tonight was no different. He passed Goshi and Hegede on the way, but they didn’t question him. No one does. Prabu is second-in-command of the outpost, and the men love him. My men, he thinks again. It feels wrong to exploit their trust like this, a sticky, sickly churning. Then, he reminds himself: my village.
His decision is already made.
They’re haphazardly laid out in an unmarked pit, rank stench mingling with ocean spray in the foetid air. Prabu doesn’t try to recognise them. The pain stabs deep enough as is.
‘He left ‘em,’ the man is saying, ‘left ‘em with nothing. Bastard wouldn’t even lower the tax.’
‘But the tsunami – ’ Prabu starts in disbelief, but it doesn’t ease the guilt. Regret grips him. I should have written more often, visited earlier.
‘Oh, it took their trawlers, their homes.’ The man – Syavan, he later learns – seethes at the thought of it. ‘Governor just doesn’t care. And now look, half-starved, half diseased, the rest beaten to death for protesting.’
‘Emperor keep them,’ Prabu breathes, choking back tears, and the man laughs.
‘The Emperor!’ Syavan spits. ‘He turned His back while His servants bled them. He’s no better than any robber baron in the capital. And you? A captain in the Avengers, drawing your salary off their broken tax-paying backs.’
Prabu feels the anger well up, the shame, a river pounding at a flimsy dam. He feels the urge to strike this stranger, beat him, crush him into the sand. But something restrains him, tells him it wouldn’t change a thing. Syavan sees it too.
‘You want to avenge them.’ He smiles. ‘So do we.’
Prabu hoists himself up the ladder to Tower K. There’s a tension in the air beyond his own. The whole post had been on edge since news of the Reacher uprising came in that morning, panicked chatter about fanatical legions sweeping across Rija from the coast. Sweeping through towns not even three kilometres away.
My men. Prabu curses his hesitation. He’s known since Syavan voxed that this day would come. Still, the irony shakes him. To avenge one family, he betrays another.
Prabu climbs with professional quiet into the guard tower. He thumbs the safety on his pistol. It’s simple, familiar, rehearsed. Then he sees the shape of the sentry and stops cold.
Why did it have to be you?
Prabu curses his cowardice again, but before he can recover, the figure turns, and the sloping face of Lieutenant Havaldar meets him. Havaldar jumps, startled.
‘Captain,’ she greets. ‘I didn’t hear you.’
Prabu’s heart sinks, and his fists ball, his head a whirlwind of self-admonishment.
‘All well?’ he manages.
‘Quiet,’ she answers, looking a little concerned. ‘It’s odd. Command said the Reachers were supposed to hit us hours ago. Bad intel, maybe?’
Of course they haven’t, Prabu thinks, with an internal moan of dread. They’re waiting for me.
‘Maybe,’ is what he says. His pistol arm twitches. My village.
Prabu briefly wonders if he should have asked Syavan’s friend to spare his men, but there would be no point. They’re Avengers, proud soldiers of one of the greatest regiments in the sector. They wouldn’t surrender if the Reachers gave them the choice.
My village, he tells himself again. They left my family to die. Then: My men trust me. They look up to me. Prabu grinds his teeth.
Havaldar looks at him through wide, worried eyes. They’re soft, but it burns him.
‘Navin, are you all right?’ she asks.
Prabu’s name registers on him with the force of a freight car. He panics and pulls the gun. The lasbolt goes wide and strikes her in the hip, knocking her off her feet. The lieutenant falls to the ground with a thud. Prabu’s arm locks, pointed at her, quivering with adrenaline.
In seconds, Havaldar’s slanting face cycles through shock, fear, hatred. ‘What – ’ she starts, then her hand shoots toward the alarm. Prabu pulls the trigger.
This time, he strikes true. The lieutenant’s arm drops cold to the latticed floor, a smouldering hole through her forehead. Prabu stumbles to the console and keys in the entry code. He fingers his vox-bead.
‘It’s done,’ he says.
Outside, the gate begins to slide open with a mechanical groan.
Prabu falls backwards to the wall. His heart thunders, his ears ring. Already he sees them, dozens of figures peeling out of the shadows, moving silently to the open gateway. Thirty seconds later, the silence is cut short with the bark of heavy bolters, frantic shouts, whoops and war-cries. Prabu closes his eyes. My village, he thinks. This is for my village.
The Reacher commander stamps into the tower room with his rifle drawn. An Avenger man sits against the wall, the Imperial signet on his peaked cap. Across from him, another Avenger is slumped dead beneath the control panel. The commander nods approvingly.
‘Well met, Captain Prabu,’ he greets. ‘I’m Anil. Syavan sent me.’
‘Is it done?’ the sitting man croaks.
‘Yaa wills it,’ Anil answers. ‘Thanks to you, of course.’
Prabu sighs, and his head lolls back.
‘Are you injured?’ Anil probes, concern written on his face. ‘You didn’t join us in battle.’
‘No,’ Prabu says simply.
The captain casts a glance at the corpse.
‘I owe them that much.’
About the Author
Alex Gentem has floated in and out of 40k for about seven years, but is back strong after discovering how to paint properly.