I lean back and let the air out of my lungs, smoke curling out of my mouth. Looks like that's all I'm getting out of this lho stick; I flick what remains of it into an ashtray and steeple my fingers. You might judge me for relaxing like this, but believe it or not, I've had a rough couple of days. First, my ship was stolen. Next, I encountered that barrel of trouble who called himself Marrlë, riding in on an ork warbike while being pursued by a giant squig. Then our mission to the forge went horribly wrong and we almost got flattened by a Chaos Titan. Finally, for some reason I caved to that idiot Marrlë's plan and wound up throwing myself into the melee between a company of Space Marines and an ork Waaagh. I'd say I'm entitled to a short break.
It can't last long, though. I hear the door open, sigh and look over. It's a medic, come to give me news on his condition. After all he's been through, I wouldn't be surprised if the kid was comatose. I arch an eyebrow, and the medic clears her throat. "He's awake, Inquisitor."
"Oh?" I hadn't been expecting that. Seems duty calls again sooner than I'd hoped, but oh, well, nothing for it. I could simply put off talking to him – it's well within my authority as an Inquisitor – but I believe these things should be taken care of sooner rather than later. It'll spare me headaches further down the line if nothing else. Pushing myself to my feet, I move towards the door, and the medic moves aside, giving me a respectful nod. Before I leave, I motion towards the small table beside my chair. "There's a glass of vintage amasec with your name on it, if you feel like indulging a little vice." She frowns, opening her mouth to ask me if she heard correctly, and I close the door behind me before she can, smiling to myself. People don't expect much from Inquisitors besides fanaticism and burning of heretics; I enjoy the look on their faces when I offer them something nice instead.
This brings me to the subject at hand. A walk down a long, spacious hallway takes me to the door of the ship's medicae ward. The hallway is empty, and as I open the door and look in, I see that the ward is as well, except for him. He's lying back on his medi-table, eyes open and staring at the ceiling, no doubt enraptured by awful memories. Or maybe it's the fact that those memories aren't so awful that's tormenting him. As my footfalls echo through the ward, he sits up with a grunt, watching me as I approach. I'm not a young woman, not by any measure, but his gaze makes me feel decades older. His face is youthful, but his eyes are not; I can tell they've seen more than most oldsters on their deathbeds have. It's almost enough to send a chill down my spine, until I remind myself that I've looked into eyes far more sinister than his. Comes with my line of work.
He has said nothing yet, and neither have I. I'll break this silence before long if he doesn't, but first, I'll even our ground a little. When I reach his medi-table, I pull up a stool, fan out my coat and sit down. We're not quite at eye level, but close enough. When his hollow stare doesn't waver, I decide to speak first.
"Are you going to kill me?" He asks suddenly. I close my mouth and fix him with a look that would be enough to unsettle most nobles; he doesn't even blink. He really is a tough one, this kid.
"No," I assure him. "Although I have plenty of reasons to. Consorting with heretics, acquisition of forbidden knowledge, daemonology, improper and irresponsible use of Imperial technology… the list goes on."
"How do you know about all that?" he asks, and to my relief, his expression finally shifts away from emptiness. Granted, it has become one of confusion, but at least it's something I can work with. I reach into one of my coat pockets and produce a leather-bound book, still covered in dust. His eyes widen in recognition, and he falls back on the medi-table with a defeated look.
I smirk at the deadpan curse and open the journal, skimming through page upon page of impossibilities – all of which are presumably true. After all, he kept this journal for no one, not even himself, since according to his own writing he was fairly certain of his own death by the time he'd finished. "You did what with a Daemonette?"
He looks like he might be sick. "Please don't remind me, Inquisitor."
"Stow that," I say, waving a dismissive hand at the formality. "Just call me Spiker, that'll do." He opens one eye, looking down the medi-table at me uncertainly.
"So, why am I still alive?"
I purse my lips, looking around the medicae ward for active cameras or recording devices. I asked them to turn them off before I went in, but one can never be too careful. Seeing nothing that might give me away, I turn back to him. "Well, since I already know all about your heresy, how about I tell you about mine, hmm?"
He sits up, looking less sure than ever, even as a shadow of hope crosses his face. I smile ruefully at the memory I am about to describe. "Many years ago, during my very first mission as an Inquisitor, I found evidence of a deeply-rooted Chaos cult on a hive world. I was tracing the source of this corruption up through its power structure, until I discovered that the kingpin was the very man who had called me to investigate in the first place. Apparently, it had all been a ploy to get rid of those contesting his power, while also cooling the suspicion around him."
He's looking at me still, waiting for the kicker. "All along, I was aware that there was someone helping me. Pulling strings from the shadows, ensuring that people were in the right places at the right times, dropping crucial hints that I might otherwise have missed… the entire investigation would've been much harder, and I would've probably died, if not for his intervention. When it was all over and the kingpin was a bloodstain on a wall, my shady benefactor revealed himself to me: an Alpha Legionnaire."
His head tilts in confusion at that name. I can't blame him – of all the Imperium's trillions of inhabitants, the people outside of the Astartes and the Inquisition who know about the Alpha Legion can perhaps be counted on two hands. To make things simpler, I elaborate quickly. "A member of one of the traitor legions." Now that gets his attention. I shrug and spread my hands. "So you see, while I have plenty of reasons to kill you, doing so would make me a hypocrite. That's something I have managed to not be, thus far in my Inquisitorial career. I'll admit, it has taken some logical acrobatics, but my conscience has remained fairly clean, and I'd like to keep it that way. Not to mention, this journal is what persuaded me that you weren't a traitor."
He blinks. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Oh, yes." I flip open to several bookmarked pages. "Through all of this, after everything you've seen and done and endured, you continued believing in the Emperor. That's no small feat, you know; half the time, I have a hard time believing that what we're doing in His name is right." I suddenly fix him with a deadly serious stare, leaning forwards to look right into his eyes. "Tell me, do you still hold true to that faith?" I don't tell him, but I've already had my telepath scan him for that information; I just want to hear it from his own mouth, and he does not let me down. With absolute conviction, he answers.
I nod, satisfied with that simple answer. "Very well. In that case, I have a proposition for you."
"Well, with your knowledge of heretics and the combat experience you gained on Armatura, you've become quite the fount of abilities. If this journal reads true, you have – occasional – good judgement, and you can be very resourceful in a tight spot. I can easily say that you'd make an excellent addition to any Inquisitor's retinue, and am now extending the offer to serve in mine."
His jaw hangs open, staring in disbelief. I can see the gears turning in his head a million miles a minute, processing, evaluating, weighing, and finally… he pushes himself up and swings his legs off the medi-table, biting his lip nervously. I can tell he has reached a conclusion, but I do not push him. This is not a decision to be made lightly; no matter what he says, there will be consequences.
"That's a lot more generous than anything I was expecting, Spiker," he begins, bravely meeting my eyes. "But…"
"But you can't accept," I pick up, having sort of predicted this answer. He nods, his hand clutching the edge of the medi-table.
"You've read my journal, so I'm sure you understand why. If I became part of an Inquisitor's cadre, I…"
If I remember correctly, he lost a childhood friend to a witch hunter. Perhaps he'd feel like he was betraying her memory by joining the Inquisition. I'd certainly heard worse reasons. Still, I have the authority to force him to accept, and while that would be distasteful, I can't very well send him home. After all, I had pronounced Thomas Fenwick excommunicate traitoris, and official records stated that I executed him on Armatura. The youth before me now is effectively an unperson, which is sort of a prerequisite to becoming an Inquisitorial agent. I am on the verge of pointing this out, when he surprises me.
"I have a counterproposal, if you will. May I?" Though I am caught off-guard, I quickly nod, intrigued as to what he might suggest. Taking a deep breath, he goes on. "The Inquisition might be the most secure place for me, but I don't think I could live with myself if I went that route. Spiker, I'm a Guardsman, and I'll be a Guardsman until I die. So, if you'd be willing to help me along a bit, there's something else I had in mind." My eyes narrow suspiciously, but he won't be deterred. "If you could forge me a few papers, I'll change my name and join the Imperial Guard again. What better way to disappear? No one will miss a Guardsman."
I scrutinize him a bit longer, enough to make him squirm, then give him a disarming smile. "You really would be a good addition to my retinue… oh, well. It so happens that your request is entirely within my power." He dares to smile back. "Very well, Guardsman. Back into the meat-grinder you go. Speaking of which, you're welcome for the hand." He lifts his new augmetic right arm, its metallic surface shining in the light of the medicae ward, and turns it over, experimentally flexing his claw-tipped fingers.
"Better than three fingers, that's for sure. You cut it off?" I nod. Immediately after excommunicating him, I had severed the charred ruin of his right forearm, already partially destroyed by the explosion of his plasma pistol. I could only wonder why he hadn't stopped firing once the warboss had died. He sighs and lets the arm fall to the medi-table with a clang. "Thanks for that. Oh, I was wondering – what the frak happened on Armatura? Why were we sent to back up a decimated regiment against thousands of orks?"
I snort. "That was the Administratum, I'm afraid. They miscalculated horribly, and once they realized they had, they contacted the Ultramarines. By then, of course, it was far too late for you unfortunate few." I arch an eyebrow at him. "That's the sort of world you're heading back into, you know: fatal bureaucratic errors, underfunded supply lines, overzealous officers and a quickly-forgotten death."
He grins, putting his new iron teeth on display. "In the galaxy we're living in? Sounds like a dream." I pat the kid on the shoulder – Emperor knows he's earned at least that – and get up, pushing the stool back with my heel.
"Thought of a name yet? Who will this new Guardsman be?"
He tells me, and I can't help but smile. "All right. You know, I've heard talk of a certain agri-world on which Imperial forces are struggling against the Tau Empire. They could use some reinforcements."
"Oh, Throne," Marrlë chuckles. "Here we go."
A/N: So, that's that. The Death of a Guardsman is finished, perhaps not in the way many of you were expecting. I debated for a long, long time whether Fenwick should die on Armatura or not, but finally decided against it. Although it would be very 40k if he did, it would also make this into a 'Kick the Shaggy Dog' story, which I did not want it to be. So here we are. A Guardsman is dead, and a new one has been born, and while this is an ending I am completely happy with, it need not be the end of Fenwick's story. If it is, though, I sincerely hope you enjoyed the ride.
This story didn't receive very much attention judging by the number of reviews it got thus far, but I am very grateful for the ones that it did. As long as someone is reading and enjoying this, I'm happy to write. With that in mind: would anyone be interested in a sequel?