It Happened at Three Islands
16/08/2009 in Warhammer 40K
The rockets climbed towards the sky with a high-pitched whine, leaving behind them a trail of fire. They exploded high in the night, huge flowers of fire that lit up the darkness and the sea for a short instant, and one second later the sound came rolling over the sea, washing over the shore like a giant wave. Watching from the levee on the coast, with the water calmly swaying at the base of the rockrete, the crowd gasped in amazement as more flowers of gold, blue and green bloomed and wilted above their heads. Some children, startled by the noise, began to cry, hugging their parents tightly.
His broad shoulders looking slightly out of place in his civilian clothes, a man was sitting on one of the small flight of stairs that led down to the sea, one unopened bottle of amasec and two cups at his feet. Between two detonations, the sound of steps behind him made him look behind, and he smiled, waving at the tall and wiry man who was making his way towards him to come and sit next to him.
“Thought I’d find you here, Scy,” said the second man with a sincere smile as he sat down.
“Kell! I had a feeling you’d come,” replied the first. He gestured tentatively at the bottle in front of him. “So I brought drinks.”
“Ooh, that was a nice thought. What’s the bottle?”
“Amasec. Vitura Yards, five years of maturation.”
The man called Kell looked thoughtful for a moment.
“That’s fitting, I’d say,” he finally replied. “Not many of them left now, are there?”
“Nope. And not many bottles coming from there anymore.”
“Whoa,” cried out Kell, “are you becoming depressed now?! Let’s cheer you up – give me your cup.”
“I can do it myself, thank you very much”, said Scy, pouring his own drink. “What are we drinking to?”
“Now that’s an odd question. To victory, of course. To the might of the Imperium and the fall of rebels. Isn’t it the reason for all of this celebration?”
A series of tightly packed rockets exploded in quick succession, their combined explosions giving the illusion of an immense bush of white flowers.
“To victory then,” decided Scy. “And to us of course, because if I may say so, we were pretty damn good at our jobs.”
“Quite right, old friend. To the 7th Armoured Cavalry and two of its most brilliant tank commanders!”
Both emptied their cups in one go, and watched the fireworks continue. Streaks of yellow fire cascaded down like waterfalls, all the way down to the sea, while other combinations of rockets created eagle-shaped explosions of gold.
“Remember that day at the Academy, when we sneaked into the Rector’s office during lunch break and replaced the music slate?”
“How could I not?” laughed Scy. “It wasn’t exactly the Hymn to Terra that was broadcast that day during the lunch at the canteen!”
“We really thought that we were doing something big,” said Kell. “That we were going to change things.”
“Yes, didn’t we? But nothing changed that day. They never even found it was us two. In the end, everything continued just as normal.”
“Until the war.”
Scy glanced at Kell, who kept gazing intently at the spectacular fireworks. Somewhere behind them, he could hear joyful music play and people call out to each to each other with laughing voices.
“It was snowing that day, I remember. I mean, the day we blockaded the exits and highways at Three Islands to contain the first signs of insurrections.”
“The snow was barely holding on the streets,” nodded Kell, still not looking at his comrade. “How many of them were there already?”
“Perhaps a hundred thousand, maybe more. Students and workers, parents and children, all yelling their slogans and singing about freedom and tyranny. They barely hesitated when we moved in and deployed our tanks on the main streets.”
“Gotta give them that, at least. They really believed in what they did. They thought they could change something.”
“Maybe they did. But then we fired, and that started the escalation of indignation and revolt and turned the whole thing into a full-blown war.”
Both friends fell silent, their faces illuminated by the explosions. Kell had an appreciative whistle and pointed out at the sky, where globes of green were falling down, very slowly, bobbing left and right in the wind.
“I wonder how they do that?”
“No idea,” shrugged Scy. “But it’s beautiful, isn’t it? More than what we did that day, anyways.”
“It wasn’t our fault, Scy. They were rejecting the rule of Terra; they were rebels. They chose their fate.”
“We fired at children, Kell,” raged Scy through gritted teeth, fists clenched to the point his articulations became white. “They turned and fled, and I continued to order my crew to fire.”
“The streets were red that day,” said Kell absent-mindedly, helping himself to another cup of amasec. He reached inside his jacket’s inner pocket and produced a scorned and somewhat burnt photograph, which he handed to his friend. “I believe, by the way, that this is yours.”
Scy looked down at the picture under the intermittent light, and recognized it immediately. There was himself, and Kell too, a hand on his shoulder, laughing, both of them in military uniforms. And Osvan and Irin, still children and both looking so young, surrounding their mother sitting on a white chair at Scy’s side with his hand on her shoulder.
“I thought I had burned it”, remarked Scy cooly.
“Who knows, maybe you did a sloppy job like you so often do”, smiled Kell. “I thought you’d like to have it back, now that it’s all over.”
“You know what happened. You know they were in that crowd in Three Islands on that day when the snow fell.”
“What does it change? They were your family. You deserve that picture.”
“Do you really think I want to be reminded of their fate? Irin was barely fifteen, and she took up a rifle after she made it out alive. Osvan was nine, and he too was killed when we cleaned up Three Islands. ”
“I never found out what had happened to Cortorea,” sighed Kell. “I would, at least, have liked to know. We were good friends, after all.”
“I can help you with that,” said Scy. “I saw her die.”
Kell almost jumped in surprise. “You never told me that!” he cried out, his voice muffled by a timely explosion, as he grabbed Scy’s clothes with both hands.
“Hey, let go of me. Yes, I saw her die, and that’s how I knew you killed her.”
There was a silence, during which Kell tried to articulate words but no sound escaped his gaping mouth. He finally let go of Scy and slumped back on the stairs, head hung down.
“When we fired at the crowd in Three Islands, I saw her. She had that black dress of hers, you know the one. Through the vision slit, I saw her being separated from Irin and Osvan in the panick. I could have sworn she was looking at me, but there was no way she could know I was in there. Me, I was torn apart to see her there. I didn’t know. She hadn’t told me anything. I was about to cry an order to stop, when your tank fired.”
He waited for a reaction which didn’t come. Kell was still looking down, eyes wide open behind his shoulder-long black hair falling over his face.
“For a moment, she seemed to fly,” continued Scy. “When the shell exploded just behind her and she was thrown in the air. And then the fire engulfed her and she disappeared forever, just like that. I don’t remember much more, except I screamed to continue firing, because it was the only thing I could think of to not think of her.”
“You must’ve hated my guts,” said Kell in a whisper. “But you never told me.”
“I did, yes. You know how I loved her. I thought I’d become mad because of the pain, at first, but then I decided I’d hate you instead.”
“Why tell me now?”
“Because it’s all over, today. The war is finished, and soon all memory of the vanquished will be erased. And I have had my revenge.”
“Revenge? Over me? When did that happen?”
“At the Vitura Fields breakthrough,” said Scy, ignoring the slight shiver Kell had when he mentioned the name. “The mine – you must remember that mine! – I had seen it. You hadn’t, and I could’ve warned you over the comm-link. You would have avoided it with only a little turn, and all would have been well. But I didn’t. I had a score to settle.”
“You had seen the mine,” repeated Kell, voice reduced to a whisper. “You had seen it. I guess, now, that it was only fair.”
“I wasn’t disappointed. The left tracks of your tank were literally blown away by the blast, like she had been. And then, you were left there burning, until your fuel tanks ignited.”
“And then I died,” completed Kell. “We still had lots of ammo, the blast must have been quite a sight.”
“It was. But at that time, I hadn’t too much time to rejoice of that. There was a battle to be fought and won.”
“I guess you’ve said what you had to said,” said Kell after a long silence. “Maybe you’re feeling better now, but anyway, it’s my cue to leave. Enjoy the fireworks.”
“Not very likely,” replied Scy, but the ghost of Kell had already gone. He looked down at his cup and re-filled it, before extending his arm towards the sea. The fireworks were coming to their climax, with a dazzling array of rockets and fountains of light lighting the sky like in broad daylight.
“Cheers,” he said with a voice devoid of any joy, “to he who drinks alone now!”
In one go, he emptied the cup, and turned it upside down as if to prove it was empty, holding it out again.
A few drops of amasec dripped down, dotting the rockrete stairs like tears would have.