Freedom, of a Sort

Penal Training Compound
Planet Valos Krin
13 Years ago

The giant grizzled sergeant paced angrily, looking in disappointment at the pathetic bunch of recruits standing before him. The sun beat down like a wave of fire as a large dust storm beat against the back side of the compound. While the sergeant considered these conditions mild on Valos Krin, it was clear from the way the recruits where folded over on themselves crying that they couldn’t take the heat. Or perhaps it had to do with the fresh explosive collars around their necks, the sergeant admitted to himself.

“My name is Sergeant McMillians.” He barked at the line of recruits, startling a few of the weaker men. “While you are in this compound, you will call me sir. For the brief moments that you remain alive outside of this compound, you will call me sergeant. Is that understood?”

His words were met with a weak wave of acknowledgement and his face contorted into rage at the poor response. He asked again, this time even louder, but was still met with the same weak response from the men. In anger, he approached one of the younger boys who seemed to be handling the heat better than most, despite his obviously pampered upbringing.

“What is your name, maggot?” McMillians shouted, his nose mere inches from the boy’s face.
“Stannis Geth.” The boy responded, his eyes meeting the sergeant’s gaze coldly.

“Are you hard of hearing, maggot? I told you to refer to me as sir while within this compound. What is your name?” The sergeant roared so loud, his voice seemed to drown out the dust storm for a moment.

“Stannis Geth, sir.”

“Wrong!” Spit flew across the boy’s face as the sergeant continued to yell. “You are merely a walking corpse waiting to fill a body bag, and your only designation is this number!” McMillians pushed against the serial number etched onto the boy’s shirt. “How old are you, boy?”
“Eighteen, sir.”

“You ever held a gun before?”

“Every day of my life, sir.” The boy responded without hesitation, and the sergeant smiled.

“Good. Because you’ll be holding one every day for the rest of your life too. And maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll live to be nineteen. But I doubt it.” Turning from the boy, McMillians marched back to his previous position to address the entire line.

“I will be teaching you sorry sack of maggots how to hold a gun for the next two weeks. After that, you’ll be shipping out to Dusk to see how real fighting is done. And if you think this weather is inhospitable, wait until you step foot in that hellish wasteland.”

“Is that when we’ll take the collars off?” Stannis was clutching at his collar as he interrupted the sergeant, and a wave of fear swept over the rest of the line as the sergeants face became bright red. But instead of yelling, he merely smiled and looked straight into the boy’s eyes.
“No. You’ll never take that collar off again, boy. Those collars are instruments of my wrath for any of you who break my rules. Let me show you…” Another guardsman rushed up to the sergeant carrying a large device. Looking once more at the boy, the sergeant flicked a switch and a deafening boom sounded from within the line.

Stannis was nearly knocked off his feet as the collar on the man next to him exploded. Blood and brains splattered against Stannis’ face, and he could hear other men down the line beginning to vomit and cry.

“It seems the Emperor favors you, maggot.” The sergeant was standing in from of Stannis once more. “That was supposed to be you, but it seems your collars were switched. Mistakes do happen from time to time… But there won’t be any next time, am I clear?”

“Crystal, sir…” Stannis barely managed to croak out the words. He struggled to keep himself composed, even as the blood streamed down his face.

Beneath the Tricorn PalaceHive Sibellus
Planet ScintillaCurrent Day

Flak opened his eye, slowly adjusting to the bright light hanging overhead. Around him, Magos Vern and his servitors worked to finish last minute adjustments to the guardsman’s new rig. Once again, Flak’s arm instinctively reached up to touch his neck, only to be stopped by the heavy bindings around his wrist.

“Still haven’t learned?” Vern’s voice was somber while he let his work distract him.

“Not used to it, sir.” Flak let his head tilt and caught a glimpse of the rugged metal collar lying abandoned on a workbench behind the servitor. As his eye further adjusted to the light, he noticed a figure standing in the shadows behind the workbench. Inquisitor Sand stepped forward and Flak could make out the bulking form of his bodyguard standing by.

“I’ve never been a big fan of these collars, myself.” Sand spoke as he picked up the deactivated explosive device and turned it over in his hands. “There are always more efficient ways of keeping people in check…” He tossed the collar back on the workbench, and wiped his hands on a cloth. “More useful ways as well. This injector that Magos Vern is equipping you with should prove more useful in the field. It’ll pump chems directly into your blood stream as needed, and we’ll even load it up with something to help offset the loss of your eye. At least until we can find a workable replacement.”

“Not to worry, sir. The Emperor saw fit to bless me with a spare for just such an occasion.” Flak responded in his usual monotone voice.

“Good. I like that attitude. Your brother had it too. He did good work, even gave his life for our cause. I expect even better from you.”

“You’ll have it, sir. They never trained me to fail, so I wouldn’t know how.” Sand smiled at Flak’s words.

“Then as soon as you’re finished here, we’ll get you started on your next assignment.” Sand turned to leave, but stopped short. “I shouldn’t have to remind you that this rig is also capable of poisoning the wearer. Just because you’re free of your collar, doesn’t mean you get to stop following orders. Am I clear on that?”

“Crystal, sir.” Sand departs with a nod leaving Flak lying quietly staring into the light above him.

Freedom, of a Sort

Faith and Betrayal taddow Gunsmith