Tell me if you've heard this before. Hospital bed. Blank wall. Lumens in the ceiling. Strange machines which go 'beep' when you're trying to sleep. Space Marine in the corner...buh waitasec.
The red-armored Marine, on seeing me awake, disappeared out of the room's small door. I looked around, trying to take stock. Hmm, arms and legs where they should be…my mental voice faded away as I looked at my chest. Wires trailed off from a large implant in my abdomen, and I could see the black tendrils of military-grade implants stretching beneath skin and bone.
"The sleeper awakens!" the Inquisitor announced dramatically, breezing through the door. "Bastard," I growled back, too confused to give him a decent reply. Unfazed by my opening salvo, he seated himself in one of the terminally-uncomfortable chairs you find in any hospital room. "And how do you find Imperial Navy hospitality today, honored Princeps?" the Inquisitor asked melodramatically.
"Shitty as ever and the food's even worse," I grumbled back. "The hell happened down there?"
"Short answer? You did good."
"Ahem," he responded, clearing his throat and unrolling a vellum scroll. "Be it known that Princeps Tomas of the Legio Gryphonicus distinguished himself exactly one month prior to Feast-Day against the vile machinations of the Great Enemy in the field of battle, bringing death and ruination to the Emperor's foes through glorious combat, where he-"
"Goit. Shut up now."
He smirked. "You found the Cosmic Horror, destroyed the main summoning Gate that the cultists had been using, and delivered a teleporter beacon close enough for the Astartes to get aboard the Titan and sabotage it."
"Fine." The events played themselves out through my mind, and I fervently wished that they didn't. The suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame – I just wanted to leave it behind.
"Tell them I'm done."
He quirked an eyebrow at that. "Say again?"
"I quit. I've served my time, I'm ready to leave."
"You do realize that the Legio searched for years before finding anyone able to pilot Invictorus?"
"I. Don't. Care," I snarled, heedless of the consequences of telling off an Inquisitor. I ripped off my thin blanket, exposing my new organs to the world. "My heart stopped, and they replaced it. What happens next? When I lose an arm, a leg? I don't want to become one of them!"
The Inquisitor appeared unruffled. "Surely fear of Techpriests is hardly your worst problem."
"I'm done," I sighed. "The Marines can do this shit for decades without problems, but I'm not a Marine. I've watched too many friendlies die, killed too many enemies – hells, Vicky will kill me in a few years if the Legion doesn't!"
The Inquisitor grew serious. "I know. I'm here because of that."
"So? Something tells me you're not helping me out of the goodness of your heart."
"Fair enough," he responded amiably. "I'm here to give you a job offer."
I laughed in his face. Predictably, I found myself gazing down the awfully-wide barrel of a bolt pistol. Those things make a convincing argument from here.
"Careful," he remarked quietly. "I'm here because the Legio is washing their hands of you."
"So? That's great! They scrub Vicky, I go home!"
"Not exactly. Invictorus and her potential corruption has become a political hobble. Without my help, the Governor would've refused to repair the other Titans of the Legion. You're a danger to Imperial society wherever you go, and you'd only go home in a casket."
"Get corrupted once and it's game over, I guess?"
"More or less," he responded. "Imperial authorities are justifiably paranoid about Nurgle's Rot, and they can't know of the purification measures that I have available."
"Your pet blank, you mean?"
"Exactly. Rest assured that you pilot a clean Titan."
"Well, whoop-de-frakking-doo," I sourly shot back. "What do you want me for, anyway?"
He relaxed; the bastard knew he'd won. "I need backup. You and your 'tainted' crew will live aboard my ship, and give me help on the ground when I need it."
"You have a ship that can seat a Warhound? Damn."
He smiled thinly. "The previous captain found himself…somewhat lacking in his duties to the Imperium." Scary bastard.
"Fine. You win."
He rose, waving coyly as he left. "Be seeing you." I sighed, throwing my head back against the pillows. Shiiiiiiit…
My crew visited me eventually, and I broke the news. We'd all been secretly expecting the "laspistol to the head" treatment, so they took the news fairly well. I relaxed, trying to not worry about it. Time would – hopefully – heal the wounds that we'd suffered out there.
Three days after I woke, however, I had a more unexpected visitor. Another red-armored giant – the Librarian, Morris. "Hey," I greeted, unwilling to make an effort for the Marine.
"Princeps," he grunted back. An uncomfortable silence passed for some time.
"Why're you here?" I finally asked.
"I wished to… thank you," he quietly responded.
"You closed the Gate and brought my men through the enemy's guns. Many more Marines would have died that day but for your actions."
"Well, FRAK YOU!" I yelled back. "Your pretty-boys did just fine, but how many Guardsmen lived?"
His eyes flashed – literally. "None."
"Exactly," I responded. "Then I failed."
"Space Marines lived."
"And who gives a flying frak?"
"I do," he shot back. "I felt them die, Princeps. I saw their last moments and heard their last thoughts. I regret those Guardsmens' deaths more than you do, because I know who they were and how they fell."
I didn't have a response to that. The Librarian continued quietly, "A Warhound against an Imperator? It's a miracle simply that you lived. Take your victories as they are."
"I can't," I responded again. "I can't keep going. I've fought too much, gone too far, killed too many. I'm done."
"Only in death does duty end," he recited.
"Maybe for you," I shot back. "I'm a regular old human. For me, duty isn't for life."
"No!" he bellowed. "Duty is eternal! We fight humanity's enemies, and our work does not end until they do!"
"Heh," I responded weakly, stunned slightly by the Librarian's physical and psychic outburst. "Fine, then. Tell me, where were you when my home burned?"
The Librarian's eyes glowed again, and I saw black.
I can see Home again. The old hab-block, south steps still crumbling and the scrumball court as scuffed-up as ever. Kids are walking home from the schola, the sun's warm on my shoulders, and the sky is clear for once.
I breathe deep, savoring the fresh air. The Techpriests have finally gotten the equator purification units working again, and the atmo is the cleanest that it's been in years. Seeing Johnny's, our local recaf shop, and-
I look up. The sky is darkening, a fleshy rain blotting out the sun. I turn to run, even as others point up at the danger. I know what's coming, and I want to see Home one more time before it gets here.
Jumping up the stairs two by two, I dash into apartment 3-C as the first spores hit. They are there, even if it's not them, not truly. "Hey, I'm home!" I yell, and they turn as the first spores hit dirt.
I hold onto them, even as a falling pod crushes the hab-block and the 'nids overrun Latium, Leviathan's assault crushing Gryphonne III and overrunning-
I gasped as the realtime dream faded, reality coming fitfully back to me. "BASTARD!" I yelled. "That shit wasn't even real!"
"True," the Librarian answered. "You experienced the memories of a teenager on Gryphonne III, mixed with your own."
"Why?" I asked mournfully. I'd never gotten over losing Home.
"To remind you why you fight. You serve so that others don't have to."
"Hells," I muttered. "I…"
"Will serve," the Librarian finished for me. "Fight to keep another Home from burning."
"Spoken like a true Marine."
He laughed. "You'd make a good Marine too if you didn't whine so much."
With Corrun's arm on my left and Osirus's mechadendrite on my right, I walked into the sunlight again. A specialized lander had already lifted Vicky skyward, and my crew steered me towards a nearby Arvus lighter. As the craft shot towards orbit, I looked out over the ruined hive. The Nurglite Titan had created a massive imprint when it fell, and smoke still curled from its twice-dead corpse. The Librarian's psychic echo still resounded in my mind, and I felt myself wondering how many Homes like mine had been crushed down there. "Damn…"
As the lander arced away from the surface, I got my first good look at my new digs. The former Rogue Trader ship had been repurposed by my new boss, and served as an "oh shit" measure that nearby Inquisitors could call on for help. For the life of me, I still don't know how he managed to pull my mechanics away from the Legion, but they'd come as well.
I looked around. I still had my girl, my crew, and a purpose. The Princeps' words echoed in my mind: If nothing else, stand by your crew. As the lander decelerated to dock, dwarfed by the massive ship in front of it, I made up my mind.
My name is Tomas Arkady, Princeps of Invictorus. With autocannon and flamer, with fusion cannon and megabolter I have killed enemies beyond counting. I have fought the Great Enemy and smashed his war-machines. And yea, though I enter the Gates of the Warp, I shall fear no evil, because I am driving a 50-foot giant of frak you.
"Hey, Corrun - what's for dinner?"
…aaaand that's all folks! This was my first fic, and I want to thank everyone who read or reviewed it as I went. I can still see plenty of cringe-worthy bits in earlier chapters, but your reviews and PMs have really helped fix it up.
I started writing this initially to pass time during a boring summer, but this fic grew on me as I went. Rest assured that Tomas and his merry band of psychos have returned for more murder and mayhem in "A Man and His Titan!" (it's just too much fun to write about Titan stompy goodness! :D) So if you have anything that you'd like to see included or changed, just leave a review or PM me and I'd be happy to listen!