Pain is what I awoke to. My whole body hurt. My head was pounding. I tried to open my eyes, but they were greeted by a searing white light that forced me to close them. My left shoulder was on fire. I tried to sit up, but something held me in place. More pain… Every nerve fiber in my body was screaming.
"He's waking up." The voice was unfamiliar to me. It seemed close, but far away at the same time. The words echoed in my head.
"I'm on it."
I tried to move but couldn't. Tried to see, but was again met by that painfully bright light.
A sharp jab in my right shoulder…
I'm running through the rows of corn behind the house I grew up in. I'm seven years old. I'm running as fast as I can with arms spread wide, so my fingertips brush against the stalks of this year's crop. I love running; I feel free when I'm running. I can run faster than all the other kids at school. They beat me up again today. I run the fields when I'm upset.
I look to the sky and see the face of my God the Emperor smiling down upon me. I close my eyes and feel the warmth of his light upon my skin.
I am free.
I run faster to show him how fast I can run.
I hear my father's voice call out to me….
He's drunk again. He's always drunk. Drunk and angry… very angry. The kids at school had their turn, now it's his. This beating's going to be worse. Much, much worse.
I hear him calling. He's going to beat me again for sure. He beats me all the time, for anything, anything at all. Any real or imagined slight is enough to provoke his anger. I fear the man, him and the kids at school. Nobody likes me. Everyone hates me.
Footsteps… Closer this time… "Mabien, you get back here right now!" He's getting closer…
I cut over three rows and run faster. I run as fast as I can. I run until my lungs burn. I run until my legs are on fire. I run until it feels as if my heart will explode.
But still, the steps…. "Mabien!"
I look back to the sky, and the Emperor is no longer smiling. He's now just staring at me, cold and distant. I try to run faster but can't. I'm tiring, and the sound of the steps is growing closer by the second.
The corn starts to wither and die all around me. This scares me even more.
I'm afraid of everything. My mother, my father, the kids at school, I'm afraid of them all. But mostly, I'm afraid of tomorrow. I never want tomorrow to come. Tomorrow my torment will begin anew.
I'm tired now, unable to run any further. I try to hide in the corn, but it's useless. It's shriveled away to almost nothing now. I look up to the Emperor, "Please help me I'm scared." His face becomes angry, and I weep. There's nothing around me now but the dried dead husks of corn.
"I'll teach you to run from me." My father is standing in front of me now. He holds the club he's going to beat me with in his hands. "You're no good Mabien, and it's time to teach you a lesson you'll never forget."
I sit down and curl up, wrapping my hands around my knees. I rock back and forth, shaking head to toe, terrified of the beating I'm about to receive. I cry and beg him not to beat me. He just looks at me and laughs.
His laughter is maniacal, demonic. A thousand different voices join in, and it echoes all around me. As they continue something changes inside of me.
That's when I feel it. A new sensation, one I'd never known before. The feeling is small at first, but as they continue to laugh, it begins to manifest itself stronger. It coalesces into a fire in the pit of my stomach. The flame burns and grows brighter every second he mocks me. All of my fear and insecurity melts away with this powerful new emotion.
The dead corn spontaneously ignites, and I stand up. I look up to my father who's no longer laughing. I look into his eyes and detect a hint of something different. There's something else there now, something I know. Something I've lived with all my life.
I understand now. He doesn't hate me; he's afraid of me. Everyone is. My mother, my father, the kids at school, they're all afraid of me. That's the reason he beats me, the reason my mother won't speak to me, the reason the kids at school pick on me. They hate me because they fear me.
I look up to the Emperor and see that he's pleased by this. My confidence building, I look back to my father.
"I HATE YOU" I scream it at the top of my lungs, and the flames grow brighter.
I say it over and over again, "I hate you. I hate you!" As I say the words I'm transformed into the man I am today. Fear is now clearly written all over my father's face. I look back to the Emperor and see that he's now smiling.
I'm afraid no more.
I look back and my father's gone. In his place stands the Marine I'd fought with. His face is the same mask of superiority and confidence it had displayed during our fight, but I can now see right through him. And what I see is fear. I can see his fear, and I despise him for it.
The rage in my heart boils over. I hate Chaos more than anything in the world now. Chaos took the only friend I'd ever known. All I have left is my rage. It's my new best friend. My only friend.
A bolter appears in my hand. Without hesitation, I raise it to bear and pull the trigger. The Marine shattered into a million little pieces when the bullet struck him. All that was left was Gunney, standing where the Marine had been.
The fires around us began to die with my rage. I lowered the bolter and stepped forward, and my anger replaced with curiosity. I looked at him quizzically.
"You're special you know," he said smiling, "The Emperor has shown me what you are. He has big plans for you."
I didn't understand, "What am I? What's so special about me?"
"Not yet Mabien, what matters now is what you must do." He replied.
"What will you have me do?"
He pointed to the sky, "What he created you for."
"What do you want from me?!" I screamed. The flames increased in intensity.
"He wants you to continue to do as you have already done," he answered cryptically.
"And what is that?!" I roared, the fires growing in ferocity.
"He wants you to kill them. He wants you to kill them all." He pointed to the broken shards all over the ground.
It took me a minute to realize what Gunney was trying to say. Did he really expect me to kill the Chaos Marines?
"And how am I supposed to do as he asks? The last one nearly killed me!" I screamed, "It was pure luck I even killed him at all!"
"It wasn't luck Mabien. It was who you are. He has given you everything you need to accomplish your task. It's what he's always meant for you to do."
"What?! What is it that he's given me?"
"Not yet. It's not that time, and you'll find out soon enough. You have no fear now. He has taken it from you. Start with that. A great man is coming to see you soon. Learn from him all he has to offer. Make yourself into the weapon he created you to be."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"You'll learn when the time is right. I have to go now. My time has come to walk with Emperor."
He started to fade, "No. No, wait….."
"Frost, it's time."
"Time for what? What is it time for?"
"It's time for you to wake up."
Pain again greeted me as I awoke with a start. My shoulder was on fire. I jerked against the restraints holding me to whatever it was I was lying upon. I opened my eyes but closed them again when they met a painfully bright light. I jerked even harder, but it was no use. I couldn't move. I opened my eyes slowly this time and forced them to adjust to the searing white light.
"He's awake again." The voice was male, but I couldn't see where it was coming from.
"I'm on it," another voice, this one closer. Footsteps…
I heard a door slide open\from somewhere behind.
These were different. They were louder, more purposeful than the others… military.
"Put that fraggin' thing down. I want him awake." The new voice was strangely familiar, the words full of authority.
A form stepped over me and looked down. I squinted, trying to make out the features of the face hovering just above, but couldn't, it was still too bright. The form reached up and touched something over me, and the light went out. I closed my eyes and let the after-image fade from my retinas.
I opened my eyes and looked around. The room was still well-lit, but I could now see without pain. It took a minute for my eyes to regain focus and slowly, objects began to coalesce into recognizable shapes.
I was in a medical bay. The smell of disinfectant was strong. White and metallic surfaces surrounded me. A bank of machines was off to my left monitoring my vital organs and happily beeping away. I looked down and saw straps across my chest and legs.
I looked at my right arm and saw it similarly restrained. I looked to my left and saw nothing there. I briefly flashed back to my fight with the Marine. The memory of my arm being torn off brought with it the very real pain. My body convulsed and I screamed.
"Give him something!" The now familiar voice said. I could see his face now, but couldn't put a name to it. The pain was preventing my brain from working.
Footsteps… Another person beside me… A hypodermic needle… A sharp jab in my shoulder…
A couple of seconds later the pain subsided, and my brain started to work again. A man stepped away, taking the needle with him. I looked back to the face of the person standing over me.
"Do you know who I am?"
"Yeah…" I started to drift off.
He reached down and slapped me hard, waking me the rest of the way up, "What is my name trooper?!"
"Captain Drennan, Sir!" I said suddenly remembering my military bearing.
"And who am I, Corporal?"
"You're my commanding officer, Sir!"
He relaxed then and smiled, "Welcome back trooper."
I remained silent long enough to collect my thoughts, "Where am I?"
"We're in the medical bay aboard the cruiser you deployed on. You're damn lucky to be here from the sound of things. We almost lost you."
"Why am I strapped down?"
"It's for your own protection. From what I hear, you took one hell of a beating down there. You've been having seizures in your sleep. The fact you're still alive is a god-damned miracle."
"The Marine, he…"
"I know," he cut me off. "I saw the whole thing when I checked your mission log."
"Gunney, Gunney…" I choked.
He cut me off again, "Christoff did his job Frost, and you did yours." He stopped for a second as I composed myself, "And in my opinion, you did one hell of a job." He was smiling now, "Three Marines, you killed three Marines!"
"What do you mean so?!" He asked incredulously. "I've actually fought the Marines and seen entire companies wiped out by not many more than that." He started laughing, "Corporal Frost, do you know what you are?"
The question made me recall the dream I'd had, and I was hoping for a different answer than the one he gave, "No sir, what am I?
"You're my god-damned hero Frost! That's what you are. To hell with your disciplinary problems, you fragged three Marines. All by yourself!"
He looked around the room. "You see this man? Do, you, see, this man?" He hollered while pointing at me, "This man is a hero! A god-damned hero! You will treat him as such."
He looked around the room until his eyes locked onto someone I couldn't see. "You, come here!" He barked. A clearly intimidated doctor walked over to where we were, "Why the hell haven't you fixed his fraggin' arm yet?!" He said still pointing at me. He was leaning over the doctor threateningly. The doctor started stuttering a response, but Drennan cut him off, "Don't you even try to give me an excuse. You will fix his arm, and you will fix it, TODAY!" He roared.
I started to chuckle as my CO grabbed him by the lab coat and lifted him to his toes, "You listen here, from this moment forward, you will do whatever you can to get him better... and Emperor help you if I find out you took any shortcuts." Drennan let the man go who immediately backed up a step. "Do you read me?"
Technically the doctor out-ranked Captain Drennan and had every right to assert his authority, but I'll be damned if he didn't snap to attention and yell, "Yes Sir!"
Drennan turned and addressed the room, "And that goes for the rest of you. If I find out any of you gave this man anything but the best the Navy has to offer; I will personally come back here and shoot you all!"
I knew it was an empty threat, but none of them did. In no time, I was surrounded by nurses looking me over from head to toe, double and triple-checking my monitors and IV's.
Drennan looked back to the doctor and asked in an even tone, "Is it safe to unstrap him yet?"
"No Sir," the doctor stuttered, "he had another seizure just shortly before you arrived. I would not recommend it."
Drennan looked back to me, "Sorry trooper, I tried." He again regarded the doctor who had started to relax a little, "When can I have him back to work doc? I've got a medal to pin on his chest, and I want him in his dress uniform with an arm in both sleeves, to receive it."
"It'll be a while, Captain." He replied with a little more confidence returning to his voice. "When they brought him in, he was in pretty bad shape. Besides losing his left arm, his skull was fractured in four different places. He suffered multiple concussions that caused his brain to bleed and swell. This caused him to have multiple seizures, which nearly killed him. The frequency of these has diminished along with the swelling, but like I said, he had another shortly before you arrived." The doctor continued, "Two vertebrae in his neck were cracked so severely, I'm surprised his spinal cord wasn't damaged. We repaired those first to prevent further damage from any subsequent seizures."
Captain Drennan remained quiet as the doctor continued, "Not to mention the loss of blood from the amputated limb. Quite frankly I'm amazed he made it here at all. He had almost no blood left in his system. We had to resuscitate him three times before we got enough back into him for his heart to function properly."
"As for the arm, we performed surgery to stop the bleeding and get it ready for the bio-mechanical replacement. He's ready to receive a new arm, but fleet supply is dragging their feet, mostly because of his low rank. I put the order in three weeks ago as soon he got here." The doctor seemed frustrated when he looked down at me, "I can't give him an arm I don't have."
Captain Drennan took all this in before responding, "You'll have it by tomorrow. I'm going to personally head down to supply and straighten them out." The way he said it made me smile as I imagined him pistol whipping supply's OIC into unconsciousness, which is probably exactly what he planned to do. Captain Drennan does not play games when it comes to his troopers.
All this said; I have to make clear the fact that I was totally bewildered by the kindness he was showing towards me. The only times I'd ever spoken to him before this, was when he was either taking my rank or chewing me out for something I'd done. I'd always known him to be a hard-ass, but like I said, I was usually on the receiving end of his anger.
He walked over to stand by me again. He looked down and in a low voice only I could hear, "Frost, I spoke to the Fleet Commissar this morning."
This brought a chill to my spine as he continued, "It wasn't pretty, he was furious. He said the only reason he hasn't come down here and shot you yet, is the Inquisition wanted to question you first."
"But why? What the hell did I do?"
"You nuked that site, Corporal." I nearly smiled remembering the Marine's obscene gestures, but the gravity of my situation prevented me from doing so. "I for one, agree with everything you did down there. And the Commissar came around after I showed him the footage. In fact, he was so moved by your actions that he signed an order awarding you the Imperial Cross."
"So, what's the problem?" I asked.
"Don't you get it? Someone from the Inquisition is on their way here, and they want to speak with you. Commissar Bowen told me when he informed the Inquisitor you destroyed that site, and he nearly lost his damned mind. This is no joke, Frost. You're in seriously deep shit."
Captain Drennan was right, and I was in deep. Commissar Bowen showed up later that day and confirmed his supposition. I was unstrapped by now because I the doctor felt it safe to do so. When Commissar Bowen came in he assured me I had his full support and at the same time told me he had absolutely no control over what the Inquisition might do.
Now commissars have great power. They are the most feared officers in the Imperium. They're accountable to no-one except higher ranking commissars. Their job is to enforce the rules and regulations of all branches of the Imperial Military. If they find you in violation of your duties, they can punish you however they see fit. This could be anything from extra duty and confinement, all the way up to and including, execution. Their power is so great, that theoretically Commissar Bowen could walk up and shoot the Fleet Commander if he deemed it necessary and for the good of the Imperium. Though, I must admit I've never heard of this happening.
The only people I know of with more power than a commissar are the inquisitors. No institution is more feared than the Inquisition. The Inquisition's authority is limitless. They were charged by the Emperor himself with the sacred task of persecuting all the enemies of the Imperium, xenos and domestic. They show no mercy while doing this and could do whatever they deem necessary to accomplish their task. I've actually heard of a single Inquisitor requisitioning an entire naval battle group to track just three or four people. This meant they could do whatever the hell they wanted to with me.
From what Bowen said, what they wanted to do with me wasn't anything good. They were highly upset at my decision to destroy that site. He said they asked him, "What part of, "gather evidence" did I not understand." I countered with the fact that it was just a request; he told me that I knew better. Like I said, any request from the Inquisition should always be followed by the words, "or else."
After the Commissar had left me, I was filled with an incredible sense of unease and anxiety. I wanted to get up and do something, anything at all to take my mind off of the god-damned Inquisition. I tried to get out of bed to walk around but was politely informed by one of the nurses that if I persisted with this course of action, I would be strapped down again. Frag that. So to take my mind off the subject, I lied. I told them I was in a great deal of pain and continued to complain until they happily administered a very powerful sedative into my IV to shut me up.
My plan worked… when I awoke the next day I was informed that my new arm had arrived. My commander, true to his word, had gone down to supply and straightened them out. From what I hear, he caused such a seen they had to call ship security. I guess the guy working the desk rubbed him the wrong way, because when security showed up Captain Drennan was reportedly in the process of choking him to death. I don't know if that's true or not, but the end result of whatever he did, was I got a new arm.
I was sitting in the private room the commissar had ordered me placed when the doctor brought it in. He tried explaining to me how it worked, but I had no clue about half of the things he was talking about. All I picked up from our conversation; was that it was the latest in naval technology, ran off the electricity my body naturally produced and was about four times stronger than a normal human arm. It was going to be wired directly into my nervous system during the surgery and in time would act and feel like a natural part of my body.
Unlike a civilian model, it looked like the machine it was. It was after all naval property, so they felt no need to waste money making it look like a real human appendage. Frag it; I didn't care what it looked like, I was just happy to be getting a new arm.
After the doctor had left, two techs came in and wheeled me into the operating room. Upon arrival, I was asked to remove my top which I did with the help of a nurse. They then walked me over to the operating table and had me sit on it. I took one last look at the grotesque line of staples that were holding my shoulder together as another nurse proceeded to sterilize the wound. When he finished, he wheeled a cart full of medical tools – all of which were very sharp and dangerous looking - next to me. He then ran a new IV into my right arm and hooked an assortment of wires and monitors up to my body.
"You're one lucky guy," he said, "I've never seen this model issued to anyone as low ranking as you."
"Yeah, besides you, the lowest ranking guy they ever gave this thing to was a captain."
"How bout' that."
"I heard that crazy guy who was here yesterday nearly choked someone to death when he found out they were issuing you a standard model." I laughed when I imagined Captain Drennan choking the hell out of some pencil-pushing bureaucrat. The respect I had for my CO was growing greater by the minute. He was really sticking up for me, but even he wouldn't be able to help whenever the Inquisition decided to show up.
"I've never met anyone who'd won the Imperial Cross before." The nurse said. This caused me to look him in the face. He wasn't much younger than me, twenty-two or three standard, but his features displayed a youthful appearance and sense of innocence I'd lost long ago. His eyes were bright and blue, and mine are dark and grey. I could tell this boy had never seen combat as he was eagerly awaiting my response.
"It's just a piece of metal," I said nonchalantly.
His eyes grew wide at that, "Are you kidding me? It's the highest award the Navy can issue. Most people it's awarded to died doing whatever it was they did to get it. It's not just a piece of metal; it's the Cross of the Imperium for Emperor's sake! You should be proud. You should feel honored…
I lost my temper and snatched him by the collar of his uniform, pulling him close with my one arm. "Listen here you little snot; I can name a hundred dead men - one in particular - that deserve that piece of metal more than me."
Fear was written all over his face as I continued, "What do you know of combat? Of sacrifice? Nothing! You sit here in the safety of this ship while men go down to die every day." He tried to pull away, but I held on tightly. "You speak of pride and have nothing to be proud of. You speak of honor and know nothing of it. Who the hell are you to tell me what I fragging deserve?!" I released my grip, and he fell over backwards before running off with tears streaming from his eyes.
My rage spent, I felt guilty for scaring the kid. I sat back in the bed and thought about Gunney. Give me the damned Imperial Cross. Where the hell was Gunney's Imperial Cross? He surely deserved it more than I did. This train of thought was interrupted by a man's voice, "I'd greatly appreciate it if you kept your hands off my staff."
"Sorry doc, I guess I just lost it for a minute."
"Try not to let it happen again." He administered a sedative into my IV, "If you were to do something like that with your new arm, you stand a pretty good chance of hurting someone."
"I won't let it happen again, Doctor."
"I'm glad to hear that. Now let's go ahead and get this new arm on you, shall we?" I was already falling asleep as he lowered my bed.
"Yes, Sir…" I had said before the drugs knocked me out.