Procrastination – and a story!

So, I’ve not been hitting my targets of late.

It’s tempting to blame this on circumstances (so I shall, to an extent). We have had friends staying on sofas and in spare rooms this past week and a half, making things at home a bit more hectic than I’m used to; and we have my mum and sister coming up to visit for the remainder of this week. However, it would be down-right disingenuous to say that that is the reason for my low word count, since the rot set in way before we had house-guests.

The problem is, of course, crappy time management. Well, that and having a staggeringly low words-per-hour when I actually do sit my ass down and write.

It’s caused me to miss more than a few deadlines for anthologies I’d have liked to submit to, and it’s no-one’s fault but my own. As many, many people have said, you can have all the habits of a writer – checking markets, following useful blogs and reading interesting articles that spur new and great ideas – but there is only one habit that actually makes one a writer, and that’s writing. Getting words down, daily.

I shan’t go into this mopey talk any more, since it’s hardly interesting. What is interesting is that I am happy to bring you another bite of flash fiction!

This time it’s a Warhammer 40,000 story. It came to me as a result of a thread title over at the Black Library Bolthole, a very friendly forum set up by Sarah Cawkwell after the demise of the official Black Library forum way back when (you should check it out – a select group of posters dedicated to BL fiction and the Warhammer worlds. I’ve been a member for several years and it has enriched my life and my writing significantly, and given me some friendly faces to hang out with at BLL events).

So, this is a quick story focusing on a (relatively) quiet period in between battles for an unnamed chapter of that most noble of breeds, the Adeptus Astartes. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

——————

Purity Seals

The door chime shatters the oppressive silence of my quarters, its discordant warble disrupting my focus. I am surprised my visitor has shown the courtesy of the chime.

“Enter.”

The blast door retracts into its frame, though the figure that stands beyond blocks the entrance more surely than the door had. Silhouetted by the bright light of the passageway, the midnight armour of Chaplain Aenaeus is as imposing as ever. I automatically lower my head in deference and submission to the Third Company’s spiritual leader.

“May I enter?” Aenaeus’ voice is deep and raw, ruined by centuries of oaths roared across a galaxy of battlefields. His skull-faced helm, as much a badge of office as his crozius staff and ritually blackened armour, is held beneath one arm. I straighten from my task, confused by Aenaeus’ stance and manner. I had expected his visit, but in a different humour.

“Of course, Chaplain. My rooms are yours,” I say, reverting to the arch mode of address our chapter employs in moments of formality and ritual, a throwback to our shared tribal ancestry.

I stand as Aenaeus enters, his armoured frame towering over me. I wear a simple robe in the chapter’s crimson, my sole concession to brotherhood since my return.

“It is time we spoke plainly, Honir. This has gone on for too long.”

“There is little enough to say, Chaplain. I am not fit to return to duty alongside the rest of my squad.”

“Your penance is complete, Honir. Your shame has been expunged.”

I give a wry smile at that. “My shame shall never been expunged, nor forgotten, nor forgiven. Some crimes are beyond such considerations.”

Aenaeus’ hand flexes briefly into a fist, the growling servos of his armour revealing the twitch of frustration. I am not making this easy for him.

“Whilst you wallow in self-pity, you are right. You are not fit to don your war-plate and stand as a warrior.” Aenaeus’ face twists into a mien of contempt. This is the aspect I had expected, and deserve. “I had hoped your penance would instil a change in you, but I was wrong. You remain trapped in the shadow of a dead man.”

“Captain Triton died as a result of my insubordination. What else ought I do?”

“Serve!” Aenaeus bellowed. “Triton would demand that you serve the chapter! Continue to defend the Imperium as is our duty, not waste your gene-gift in self-indulgent scribbles.”

In two swift strides, Aenaeus crosses my quarters to my writing desk. I move to block him, but a hard glare stops me in my tracks. The Chaplain picks up one of the pieces of vellum that lay on the desk, holding them between armoured thumb and forefinger with distaste. He reads what is inscribed upon it, written in my hand. Many others adhere to the shoulder pauldrons and cuirass of my war-plate where it sits in its wall socket, held in place with crimson patches of wax.

He puts it down, and turns on me. “You armour yourself in memories of the dead?”

“Better that I wear icons of remembrance than oaths I can no longer uphold.”

Aenaeus moves as a blur. His backhand blow strikes me on my jawline, hurling me to the deck. Stars spin in my vision, but I know the Chaplain has pulled the blow, because I am still alive.

Aenaeus levels his crozius, its aquila head crackling into life as the Chaplain activates the power field. “Blood of the Emperor, you mewling infant! If you persist in this forsaken indulgence, I will end your pitiable suffering and have the Apothecaries reclaim your geneseed so that it might benefit a true warrior!”

I roll off my back into a low crouch, locking eyes with the Chaplain. The stylus I had been writing with is clutched in my fist like a blade, a poor counter to the Chaplain’s weapon. A dozen combat scenarios run swiftly through my mind, each one ending in my abrupt death.

“You still have a warrior’s instincts,” says Aenaeus. He deactivates the power field, though he does not lower his staff. The aquila he aim at my hearts is an accusatory spear. “What you lack is a warrior’s sense. Death is the fate of us all, Honir. Triton’s life ended saving yours.”

Aenaeus moves again, and a golden wingtip slashes across my wounded cheek, tearing open the bruised flesh down to fractured bone. “And your childish displays dishonour his memory!”

I pray I will never again see the expression the Chaplain turns on me. Disappointment and ferocious anger, regret and rage.

“Not one nor a thousand purity seals can undo Captain Triton’s death, but your service to the chapter can make it worthwhile.”

I stand upright, matching the Chaplain’s stare as my clotting blood dries on my cheek. Aenaeus lowers his staff.

“I will waste no more words on you, Honir. We arrive in the Stigian system in three days. Sergeant Dacar will expect your presence in the battle line, and you will be an exemplar, Honir, a fucking paragon of the chapter’s virtues. If you are not, it will not be the greenskins that end your life.”

Aenaeus turns and stomps towards the door. “You will not receive this chance again, brother. Take it.” The door slides shut behind the Chaplain.

I remain in place for a moment, letting the combat stimms in my bloodstream filter through. My muscles shudder as the chemical rush drains from them.

I return to my writing desk, and sit down heavily behind it. The strips of vellum wait for me to resume my work, but I lay my stylus down, the Chaplain’s words ringing in my skull.

I look over at my war-plate, at the purity seals affixed to it. Contrary to Aenaeus’ opinion, I am right to commemorate Captain Triton’s life. The machine-spirit of my armour still recalls the injury done to it; the company armourers had repaired the rent opened by the Traitor Astartes’ blade, but I can still see the wound. The memory of Triton’s sacrifice is greater armour than ceramite.

I continue to sit in silence, before reaching for the vox link that sits on the corner of the desk. “Sergeant Dacar?” I speak into the link.

Dacar takes a few seconds to respond. “Honir?” Dacar’s voice does not betray the surprise I know he feels.

“Brother-sergeant, it has been too long since I have had a worthy opponent in the practice cages. Will you join me there?”

Dacar is again slow to respond. “Of course, brother. I will be there shortly.”