41st Millennium, Ultima Segmentum in orbit around the planet Calth on the military penal ship Damocles; 2 weeks past Candlemas.
I proffered my wrists toward the hulking Cadian Grenadier with the manacles. Roland hesitated. He focused on his large gnarled knuckles wanting to be anywhere and doing any duty save for the one that he now performed. I was bound for execution. My crime was saving the large warriors life and in a bit of twisted viciousness Captain Efraim Skarda, my father, appointed the beneficiary of my scandalous behavior to shepherd the man who saved him to the Emperor's Mercy – execution.
I slid my hands into the cold iron to save Roland a second time. I could see the war that raged within him.
A guncutter waited on deck to ferry us to the innards of Calth. The ugly ball of ore and stone loomed in the view screen impeded only by the dizzy mass of shipyards, repair docks, and fleet vessels gliding through the quiet of space. Ships half built and ships half destroyed testified to a galaxy at war. There were no luxury vessels and few cargo vessels here, every last ship bristled with macrocannons, lances, and lasercannons. The soldier in me admired the raw firepower massed around this barren planet.
The upperhive complex where we arrived was not where I imagined that I would die. It was so non-descript. My dreams had been haunted with something more formal; full of adjutants and officers arrayed around me to heap condemnation and scorn. I had disobeyed direct orders from the captain, my father. Death was the only penalty. It was the penalty I would have ordered for any who dared mutiny under my command.
Roland was asked to wait in the sterile antechamber while I was led through the bland doors and into the blinding light of the questioning chamber.
“State your name,” came the disembodied voice. The words were laced with a compulsion to speak. Its owner accustomed to being obeyed.
“Commander Elim Skarda.”
“You disobeyed direct orders Commander Skarda. I would like you to elaborate on why.”
I shifted in the manacles. It was hard to maintain a strict military posture while shackled. The lack of a body made the voice more ominous. I don't know why I cared or what the purpose of this farce. I could not escape justice. The utter certitude of my situation lent me a strength.
“They were poor orders. Ill conceived and would have been recinded if anyone save myself had pointed out the error. My father has a... dislike of being corrected by his most unworthy son.”
“Go on,” came a female voice.
“The bombardment would have, correct that, it did destroy Legio X. I was in vox contact with the group who asked for 2 minutes to clear the building. A perfectly reasonable request to buy the Empire the lives of 200 soldiers. I pointed out to Captain Skarda, my father, that the enemy ground forces would gain nothing by giving the men the time they needed to pull back. He ordered the bombardment anyway. I refused. It was a family thing even though it took place on the command bridge of a battleship.”
“Disobeying an order is mutiny, you are aware of that?” It was the first voice.
“With respect, sir. Following orders that cost the Emperor those who enforce his peace and secure his interests for no gain is not a legitimate order. There was no secondary or primary gain for throwing away the lives of those men. It is my father who should be standing here explaining his actions and the squandering of Imperial resources.”
“Do you know your father?”
The question troubled me. The shadowed voice carried with it some intimate knowledge that unnerved me more than the prospect of my looming execution.
“Commander you heard me. Do you know your father?”
“I know him. We've never gotten along. There was always a gulf between us... an animosity.”
There was quiet in the darkness that stretched out before the voice spoke again.
“Would you serve the Empire with your mind, soul, and body?”
“I am a Commander in the Imperial Navy,” I answered a little put off. “I have proven time and again that I serve.”
“Is there falseness or corruption in you?” The question hung in the darkened room. No one ever answered, sure I am a corrupt scum bent on the destruction of mankind.
A looming presence stood over and behind me in the gloom. Instinct made me want to glance over my shoulder into the inky darkness to see the face of my executioner but if this was the way it was to be... if they were craven and struck from the shadows, so be it. I closed my eyes and waited for the next question which did not come.
The air grew cold enough that I bounced my knees to warm up. I could feel the presence behind me growing larger and more threatening until I felt I would fall to my knees or rabbit to find some safety from its gaze.
Suddenly, like a bubble burst, the presence was gone.
“Turn on the lights,” came the familiar ghost voice.