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Sir Proofreader
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4,251 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Hi all,

Inspired by the stories in the third round of the LO Short Story competition (Which you should totally go and read and vote for if you haven't already!) I decided to actually finish the entry I had started but didn't get done in time to enter.

I went with a fairly literal interpretation of the Desert Storm theme - i.e. A storm in a desert! Also I haven't really finished it entirely (explaination at the end), I haven't really proof-read it as I only just finished it and it isn't going in the comp, and there are a few sneaky swears in it - nothing heinous but if that kind of thing isn't for you then consider yourself warned.

So, hopefully you enjoy it and I'd love your feedback, especially on the ending (or lack thereof :) )

*

[No title because I haven't thought of one yet]

“Emperor's Teeth,” Jenkins cursed, “Just how thick can this fracking sand get?”

Vox Corporal Tasha shook her head, not caring for the reminder. The fact the could barely see five metres in front of her through the gales of howling sand, the fact that she itched all over from the abrasive grains that were somehow inside her environment-proof skin-suit, both bore plentifully sufficient witness to their present predicament.

Jenkins did have a point, though. Even on a desert world renowned for the ferocity of its sandstorms, this was one of the biggest they'd ever seen.

It had clearly caught a few people by surprise, which was what had forced Jenkins, Tasha, and the rest of her patrol into these near impossible conditions.

An urgent call had reached their base, complete with Inquisitorial clearance codes, ordering all available forces at their garrison on an urgent high-priority recovery mission. A shuttle carrying vital information had been downed by the storm, and they would be doing their Imperium a great service were they to secure and retrieve the shuttle's cargo and crew.

Their patrol had gone out in vehicles, pushing as deep as was possible into the ever shifting sands until the transports became so badly bogged that they had no choice to continue on foot Half the patrol remained behind to try and dig them free, while the rest went in search of the downed shuttle.

Even with a faint signal from the shuttle's still active beacon, it was a near impossible task; The swirling curtains of sand, the disorienting light and the howling wind all seemed determined to keep them from their goal, to lock them into wandering endless circles. Tasha was trying to direct them with her Auspex, but the dense sand seemed to be interfering with the signal and there would be times when she had nothing but static.

Patience was wearing thin.

“By the Throne!” Sergeant Viscant yelled through his Vox, “Tasha, where the hell are we and where is this warp-damned shuttle!

Tasha hunched over her Auspex, trying to shield the screen from the rasping sand, snarling as another burst of static wiped across the screen. Though she was technically second in command, she'd been born in a mechanic's workshop, lived and worked amongst machines and technology before she could even properly walk. Machines just worked for her, and so she had the unenviable task of lugging around a Vox set and any Auspex they were issued with, as if they proved temperamental she had the best chance of getting them to cooperate. Knowing her frustration wouldn't help matters she calmed herself, laid a palm upon the static-ridden machine, and after a moment the signal returned. A fractionally clear reading, enough to thrust out an arm and yell, “That way! Eighty metres! We're close!”

A few muttered words of thanks and relief sounded over the vox. Jenkins simply grunted, “About fracking time.”

They dragged their already tired bodies towards the downed shuttle. Though Tasha had indicated eighty metres, actually covering that distance still managed to take a good ten minutes.

Finally, they stumbled across pieces of wreckage, scraps of metal and shattered cases. Broken and burned bodies, blackened sand, panels that still sparked and hissed with residual charge.

And in the centre of it all, unharmed and pulsing with an ominous green light, their unmistakable objective.

It drew them all to an immediate halt as they stared in fascination at the obviously alien piece of technology. A sickly green glow pulsed hypnotically from dark metal etched with unfathomable runes, and Tasha felt herself shiver.

Jenkins snarled through his vox, “Fracking warpspit... I ain't touching that. Throne-damned Inquisitor can come and get her filthy fracking xenos tech herself!”

Tasha shook her head. Jenkins had always had a way with words. A way which normally followed a high-speed one-way transit route to fistfight central. The man's face was less a result of his genetics then a combined effort from the dozens of medics that had treated him. Some had been more forgiving then others; usually a broken jaw ensured better treatment, as Jenkins couldn't talk back.

He could now, though, as Viscant sought to convince him they had their orders.

“You and that warp-damned Inquisitor bitch can take turns shoving your orders up your arses! I say we strap a charge to the fracking lump and blow it sky high.”

Viscant, despite his Vox conveying his words, had still adopted a position in front of Jenkins and was shouting in his face, “You don't get to make that call, soldier! The Inquisitor ordered a recovery, and you will follow your damned orders or I will drag you before a firing squad!”

Jenkins would never back down from a fight, even if he stood alone against a whole platoon. But Tasha could see he wasn't on his own this time. A few of their patrol were moving to side with Jenkins, clearly favouring his destructive proposal over their original orders.

Viscant was smart enough to see the looming rebellion and back down, “Fine! You don't want to touch some useless lump of metal, I won't make you. The rest of you, with me! Tasha, see if you can raise the transports, I'm not dragging this thing all the way home.”

But as Viscant and his supporters began to scramble towards the wreckage, Jenkins nodded at his dissenters and raised his las-gun.

Tasha dropped her Vox controller, snatching desperately for her rifle and snapping of a shot.

The report of her rifle made Viscant and his crew duck instinctively, and the shot from Jenkins scattered over their heads. Realising they were under fire they scattered, snapping off return shots as they rushed for any available cover.

Tasha made sure her second shot was on target, aimed directly at Jenkins. The man took the shot in the neck and crumbled slowly to the sands.

She didn't watch longer then she needed to. Panicked las-fire was already homing in on her position, melting sand into murky glass puddles, and she threw herself behind a dune before any of the lethal beams could strike her.

Her Vox was eerily silent and she noticed the sound of gunfire had likewise faded. Hesitantly, she keyed her talk signal.

“Who is down?”

She could hear her heartbeat even over the howling wind in the painfully long silence that followed. Finally her Vox crackled to life, “Jenkins. Don't think he's getting up this time.”

Another crackle brought worse news, “Viscant got hit. Alive but unconscious. We're patching him up and he should survive.”

Tasha nodded even though no-one could see. It effectively left her in command. She hoped that with Jenkins down, the others might fall back in to line, and keyed her Vox again, “Break in to pairs, find some wreckage we can use as a litter. Rikard, with me, lets see what it'll take to shift this Inquisitor's prize.”

Crawling back over the dune Tasha noticed her patrol beginning to move, although some still questioned her decision, “You're really taking this back? I still say we should blow it.”

She couldn't keep her irritation from her voice as she stabbed out a reply, “We just had two of our patrol shot over this stupid argument! Look at that thing – the shuttle's in pieces around it and its not got a scratch. You really a couple of grenades will do any more?”

The gently hiss of static was her only reply, and Tasha seized on the indecision, “Maybe the Inquisitor knows how to destroy it. Maybe that's why she wants it back. Lets just do what we came here for and get out of this fracking sand!”

It was enough to convince everyone. A litter was found for Viscant, Tasha discovered the transports were free of the miring sand and headed their way, and she and the rest of the patrol hefted the pallet upon which the surprisingly light xenos construct was strapped and began to move out.

There was relative silence on the return journey. No one was comfortable around the pulsing metallic block, and the sighs and muttered words of relief when they returned to their base were felt by all.

They didn't last for long.

As Tasha stepped from her transport she was confronted by a tall figure in ornate armour, swathed in a heavy fur cape that gave her already imposing frame considerably more bulk. She found herself staring down the barrel of a bolt pistol, starring at a muzzle adorned with a symbol recognised and feared across the entire Imperium.

The Inquisitorial Rosette. A gold-framed blood-red 'I' with a gaping muzzle where the bold white skull would usually rest.

Tasha finally drew her gaze from the maw of death to meet the inquisitor's stare. There was little cause for hope there; the steely grey eyes promised death as assuredly as the barrel of her gun.

Behind the inquisitor, fanning out like dark wings, her retinue stood with rifles already raised. A veritable firing gallery, with the sentence already passed.

Tasha and her squad had frozen in place, still part-way through their task, be it unloading Viscant's litter or the alien device. Lowering her corner of the pallet, Tasha turned to confront the inquisitor, hoping she could defend her patrol.

She didn't bother to salute, or bow, or grovel. She tried to hide the fear that was making her feel nauseous, that was shaking her hands and making her knees weak. The Inquisitor didn't seem of a mood for pleasantries, so Tasha simply stated her mind, “We did what you asked. We retrieved your item, and we know to keep our mouth's shut.”

A humourless smile touched the Inquisitor's lips, “You can say that. Only I can guarantee it.”

Suspecting she would get no-where with this woman, Tasha sighed in resignation, “At least let us take Viscant to the infirmary.”

The Inquisitor almost growled at her, “I was monitoring your Vox calls, Corporal Tasha. He saw just as much as the rest of your patrol.”

Surprise washed away her fear, and anger swept in its wake. Tasha found herself stepping forward, ignoring the bolt pistol pressing into her chest as she directed her rage at the stone-faced woman before her, her voice raised “If you were listening then warp take you, woman, you know that Viscant, that I, had to face down our own soldiers to get this thing back to you! We followed our Throne damned orders! We offered our lives to the Emperor! And I'm not going to let you take them like this, just to keep us silent!”

She didn't see the blow coming. One moment the Inquisitor was still, the next the side of Tasha's face burned from a backhanded blow, her ear ringing with impact, and pain flared across her body as gravity slapped her back to the concrete.

A heavy boot pressed her back to the ground, and Tasha stared once again into the decorated maw of the Inquisitor's pistol.

<???>


*


1856 words thus far, but I don't know how to end it! Is the inquisitor merciless and carries out her threat of execution? Has Tasha's ferocity convinced her to spare the patrol? Decide for me and I'll see if I can finish it off!

Or just leave it as is and we can have a bit of mystery :E

Cheers,
Deadstar_MRC
 
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Benevolent Dictator
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9,222 Posts
Awesome story Deadstar. Have you entered at all yet? I'd leave it as-is, the cliffhanger works better. I like cliffhangers for these short stories anyways - the weaker intros that usually result from cutting for the word limit, combined with an open ending, leave the readers to fill in more than just the 2k words that we're allowed. I can imagine in my own head the Inqy executing them all, in a grim application of 40k law over justice, but you probably couldn't fit it all in there and get the same emotional response. If you must, have the Inq. kill them, the other one just seems like you're pulling punches to save the hero, which is never good.
 

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Poet of the Deed
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A great story Deadstar, if Herbiie hadn't beaten me to creating the voting thread I would have let you in as a latecomer based on this piece. My timing in reading it was somewhat off.

I'd agree with Sarathai on the ending, it wouldn't feel natural for you to find a way of sparing them the Inquisitor's wrath given the situation they find themselves in, and the open-endedness does at least leave some uncertainty.

-Corrigan
 

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Sir Proofreader
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4,251 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks for the feedback Captains!

When the competition closed I'd only written about a third of this story, but I then decided to finish it after reading the other stories in the voting thread, for some reason. Perhaps I felt that great expanses of sand had been unfairly overlooked in favour of military misconduct... But then I guess I included a bit of that anyway.

I think I'm falling in favour of the cliffhanger ending too. I'll just leave it as is and people can make their own minds up as to what happens next :)
 

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Sir Proofreader
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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Don't worry about it Herbiie - I finished it well after the voting thread was posted so the fault is mine, not yours!
 

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Sir Proofreader
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I'm afraid this is a rare case of diligence on my part, Captain Corrigan, and to be completely honest I can't even take complete credit for it. There were some electrical works going on to the transformer that supplies our house, necessitating that the power be turned off. The laptop battery I knew would keep the computer on for a bit but when the power goes so does our internet! So without that to distract me and having just read the other entries through I may as well finish mine.

But yeah, I have plenty of projects in dusty corners of my hard drive just waiting for attention just like everyone else :p
 
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