Pulled from the Taken Archives – March 19th 2010

Well, I managed to find this story. It’s the one that introduces Miguel Castillo, platoon commander of Company H’s basilisk platoon. As you can see from the above, it was taken from a message archive kept in Yahoo Groups. I’d forgotten that I’d written in a reference to Senekal having a daughter. Back in 2010, when this was written my own daughter was three and a half – so she is reflected here.

‘Nor’Tex’ and ‘Lone Star’ are both references to Texas, specifically the Dallas gaming community. We wound up doing two Astronomi-con events in Dallas. The third attempt fizzled due to low memberships. Sad but there it was. We’d still like to go back there some day. This story was also written as a ‘birthday gift’ for Chris Allen. At the time I wrote it, I didn’t have an ending – so I wrote one for it.

“You realize of course Colonel, the paperwork is going to be hellish.”

Senekal kept his grip on the slender steel rail and continued to gaze at the single, lone star centered in the Strategium’s holo display. He didn’t turn his head as he answered. “I know, major. Did you honestly think I hadn’t considered that?”

Major Lekcic, second in command of the 4th Danikan Imperial Guard let out a long, exasperated sigh, which finally caused his commander to look over at him. “What?”

“Colonel, it’s seldom that you don’t consider things. We both know that. We also both know how much you loathe paperwork.”

“About as much as you love it, major, what of it?”

“This paperwork, I will start and you will get in the way of and wind up having to finish. You’ll probably then blame me for it.”

“I do give it to you to check.”

“Sometimes!”

“No, all the time.” Lekcic glared and the Colonel looked sheepish. “Most of the time?”

“On those days in which I am being generous, sir, I would be willing to grant you ‘some of the time.” Lekcic’s voice dripped with caustic sarcasm. “Were I to be entirely honest with my great commander and supposed sometime hero I would have to say that occasionally would be accurate.”

“Well, I suppose you’re right major. As you say, I do hate the administrative part of my job.”

Lekcic nodded. “Besides, this is not something I can really do for you. The administratum in these areas have thrown up all manner of requirements due to the currently ongoing conflicts.”

“There are always ongoing conflicts – ”

“Not like these. Security has clamped down tight. Even the Holy Ordos are involved.”

You could hear the capitalization in the major’s voice. The inquisition was the ultimate in administration to Lekcic – even over the high adepts of the Munitorum or Administratum. Being able to put a seal on a document that signed the death warrant of a world was REAL power to someone like Lekcic. Senekal turned back to the display.

“What’s so important about that one star anyway, Colonel? Why there?”

“Because the Skull Moon is there. Because Liche is there. Because he is my friend. Our friend.”

“Not MY friend,” the major carped.

The Colonel’s jaw tensed and he started at the star, and the brilliant smear of the Nor’tex nebula near it.

“He’s a friend to all Danikans, major. Even you, whether you believe that to be true or not. He’s a friend to all loyal citizens of the Imperium, whether they believe it or not.”

Lekcic turned to a side screen and flicked through some data. “Well, it does look like we’re needed there,” he muttered in resignation.

“Needed and wanted. Requested even. So we get ready to go.”

“It will take much time to prepare.”

The Colonel nodded. “I know. Fortunately time is something we have at the moment. Time to get the logistics tail in place. Time for them to prepare for our arrival. Even time,” he grinned at the major, “to get all the paperwork done.” He strode out of the strategium, leaving the major grumbling about which forms needed to be ordered.

Senekal’s boots rang on the gratings of the walkway as he made his way to the prefab structure’s entrance. Outside, the brisk cold of Toba bit at him, causing him to turn up the heat on his combat jacket and pull earmuffs from a pocket to clamp over his peaked cap. The ring of his boots continued although slower as he had to step carefully on the metal gratings laid down to improve footing. Some areas were iced over and the bitter wind whipped snow-snakes across the grille. In some areas it was nearly invisible under inches of blowing snow that looked like fast moving mist.

He paused a moment, back to the wind so he didn’t need to bother with his goggles, and checked the look of his troops. In the tree line he could barely make out the silhouettes of Leman Russ class hulls against the moonlit snow beyond the trunks. The dappled shadows and their hastily applied winter whitewash made them hard to pick out save for their hard edged blocky shapes.

He moved on, past the gun pits on his left. Earthshaker barrels were raised to the sky like black, frost rimed fingers. He stepped aside as Lt. Castillo approached, allowing the battery commander a clear path on the slick walk, but Castillo halted and rendered a formal salute instead of passing on.

“Miguel?”

“The colonel’s pardon, sir, but there are rumors. Anything I can tell my men?”

“Maybe. Can we get out of the cold first lieutenant?”

Castillo didn’t reply, merely turned onto a side walkway which sloped down into one of the gun pits. The ground around the artillery piece was hard as a rock, even the footprints which had been made in the mud before the freeze were now like concrete impressions. They ducked under a tarp which had been stretched from the top of the gun’s hull track unit to the ground and pinned with sandbags and mounded with packed snow.

Inside, a couple of small space heaters kept the space reasonably warm. Above freezing at least based on the squelch under the flakboards that had been laid as flooring. “Caff sir?”

“Tea if you’ve got it, Miguel. Have you forgotten my dislike for caff?”

The lieutenant smiled, his grin reflected in the upper part of his highly polished gold breastplate. “Sorry sir, I suppose I have. You don’t often visit the pits.”

Senekal laughed, “Miguel these days I barely have time to visit anyone, despite the lack of action! Lekcic keeps me so chained the desk it’s not even funny.”

It was the lieutenant’s turn to laugh. “Colonel, with respect, you don’t take me for a fool do you?”

“Never have lieutenant.”

“So you think you’re pulling one over on me now with that why? We both know that the major is amazing with things like logistics and the like – provided everything stays neatly to the Tactica Imperialis of course. But he’s never been any good at chaining you to anything, much as he would like to be. We both know entirely who has you wrapped around her tiny finger these days and while the major can be described in many ways, tiny fingered is most definitely not one of them.”

Both men laughed together as they settled onto camp stools. Castillo handed a cup of hot water to his commander and offered a selection of teas from a box and then settled to flavor his own caff. “That obvious Miguel?”

“Oh, only a little sir. Kind of like, say, if I parked my bassie in the Sector Governor’s ballroom. A few folks might notice a mud covered artillery track amidst the ballgowns and string quartets. But only a few.” He hid his grin behind his caff cup, eyes twinkling as the colonel very pointedly focused on selecting a teabag and starting a steep. “It’s not a bad thing, sir. You’ve been pretty out of sorts these last few years. Little Melly’s the darling of the regiment even above the other officer’s daughters. I shudder to think how it’s going to go when she wants to start dating though.”

“Oh come on Miquel! I want her to be happy – I’d never stop her dating!”

“No, sir I’m sure you wouldn’t. But just imagine being that unhappy suitor. He goes up to officer’s country to pick up his date from the prom. She’s keeping him waiting, like all good young ladies of course. So he’s standing there, facing one of the most formidable hand to hand killers in the entire sector, all gussied up in his dress uniform not wearing the powerfist, oh no Sir, naturally not! Behind you is Wulfgang, his honorifica proudly on display. Oh, yes, he’s trying to ignore the Baneblade platoon parked out front with all their weapons tracking him. Naturally!”

Both men were now trying not to spill their drinks, they were laughing so hard. “Colonel, any sane young man would run for the hills, probably soiling himself. Heck sir, heroes of the Imperium might well! Never mind the fact that by then you’ll probably have taught her everything you know about hand to hand combat. And so will Wulf. And Exene. And Harlow. Even, Emperor forbid, Ethyl! Baneblades? He should be more worried that his date will cut out his liver with a teacup if he steps on her toes while dancing!”

Senekal thumped his fist on the table. “All right, Miguel. All right, you win. I promise not to park the Baneblades there, okay?”

“Might help just a tad, sir.” He turned serious. “So? Word on where?”

The colonel sighed. The die had been cast now – or he didn’t know his XO. Soon enough – sooner than he’d like, they would be making their preparations. Castillo would tell his men right enough and the news would be through the regiment faster than a case of crabs through a brothel. Still, it was how it always went. Soldiers knew. The fact that Castillo had even asked him meant he already suspected and neither Senekal nor Lekcic had had the time to tell anyone. Soldiers just – knew somehow.

“All right Miguel. The Lone Star system, not far from Nor’ Tex.”

“Hah! I knew it! Marshall is going to have to pay up!”

Senekal shook his head. “Seriously Castillo? Why’d you ask me if you already knew? And how’d you know, anyway?”

Castillo sipped more caff, and made a show of looking at the shelter awning over his head before answering. “Well, second question first, sir. We’d been out of action for awhile and there were rumors of something out near Lone Star. Those rumors included a reference to the Void Phantoms. That made it a pretty easy guess.”

“And the other?”

“Well, now that it’s confirmed, Marshall will have to pay up! He bet against. Longer odds, but he figured that Undying or no, Lone Star was too far off. Me, I was betting on your friendship with that scary librarian trumping the major’s objections about distance.”

The colonel smiled again and touched his mug to the artilleryman’s. “Good call, Miguel. Where a Senekal is concerned, always best to bet on friendship.

“We’re off to Lone Star.”