Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers
Traveller of Both
Time and Space: Episode 10
He had shivered through another cold night, his eighth on this planet. The meager campfire he had managed to build kept him from freezing, but had not provided nearly enough heat for him, who was used to a much warmer climate.
It had been three days since he had eaten: he had been left with no provisions, and the thin, thorny strands of brush that he had tried to consume two days ago had made him violently retch for hours. It occurred to him—too late, of course—that anything that grew on this planet was probably poisonous. So he had simply stopped eating. He decided that when his hunger pangs grew unbearable, he would kill himself with the pistol he carried.
But for now, he kept walking. It gave him something to do.
He had walked up hills and down, negotiating empty gullies of dry, sandy, grey soil. He had climbed a plateau and spent two days picking his way across its mind-numbingly flat top before going down again. He had descended a long series of “steps,” some of them several miles wide, of cracked black basalt, until he had found a thin path that led into a deep, twisting ravine. He had followed it to the bottom, where he had slaked his burning thirst at a pool of oily-tasting water that oozed from the ground.
He had nothing to carry the water with, so he had made camp by it. That night, he had heard voices and the tramp of metal boots echoing through the ravine. He had doused his campfire and hid himself behind some boulders.
From his hiding place, he had watched three Space Marines bearing power torches and boltguns come into view. One had worn red armor, one had worn black, one had worn gold and silver. They had stood by the smoldering remains of his campfire and had looked around, guns pointing. They had argued amongst themselves in a language he could not understand. Then they had tramped off again, back the way they had come.
He had made no more fires that night. Instead, he had scrambled along, through the near-total darkness of the ravine, until he had come to a dead end of sheer rock. He collapsed from exhaustion. He awoke later the next day, after the planet’s two suns had hauled themselves into the sky, and he climbed out of the ravine, cutting his feet and hands and almost dropping his pistol, which had but a single shot.
They—his former subordinates—had given him the pistol when they left him here. He could tell that they didn’t want to, that they thought that even doing that much was too good for him, but they did, anyway. It was their duty. And though he had failed his duty, they repeatedly told him, they were not about to fail theirs.
Today, as he had done for the previous seven days, he took considerable grim pleasure in imagining the curse words he would spout if somehow he ever saw his former subordinates again.
Of course, that wasn’t ever going
to happen. Weak from hunger and lack of sleep, and with no water, he figured
he had one, perhaps two more days left. Then he would put the pistol under
this chin and end himself. But not yet. Not until he couldn’t hang on any
No, he was sure that very soon, he would die here on this rock. But it pleased him to think that every day that he lived was a thumb in the eye of those who had left him here. Maroon me? he thought. Go to Hell!
And so he walked until it was dark. He plucked some tough, wiry grass and bunched it together and spent what seemed like hours banging two stones together, but he could not get it to light. So there would be no fire tonight, and when the wind began to blow, he wondered if he would simply freeze to death.
As he sat, he drew his knees to his
chest and wrapped his arms around his legs, trying to stay warm. He held
the pistol in his lap. Hours went by. Perhaps he dozed. Some time later—how
long, he did not know—he raised his head and looked around.
That's the last of them, thank the gods.
Shamshir Talatra shut off the valve on the flamer as the last pile of corpses ignited. He sat down on a flat-topped rock and rested the flamer on his lap.
It had been eight days since Talwar Chakram had come and taken away his rank as Raja, co-ruler of the Fighting Tigers of Veda Space Marine chapter. She and Librarian Chandramatie Bahl—his former subordinate, now his replacement—had blasted off into space, marooning him with only his armor after the Tigers' massacre at the hands of the Tau.
That first night, he had sat and looked up at the sky and waited for them to come back and tell them that it was all a mistake. That he was still Raja. That he was going back to Veda. And while he had waited, he picked up small stones, one by one, and crushed them in his fists.
By morning of the next day, he knew that they would never return.
For a few days, he had wandered about, trying to find other surviving Marines, or a settlement, or even, Vishnu help him, some of the Tau. But all he had found were more dead Fighting Tigers: over a hundred of them, shot or burned, or both, all of them left where they had fallen.
After a long while—how long, he didn’t know—he had made his way back to the place where Talwar Chakram and Chandramatie Bahl had left him. The pyre he and Bahl had made and burned the bodies of several Marines had burned out, of course, leaving behind charred bits of bone. He had made a camp and eaten some of his rations for the first time in days. He had slept a bit. And then, when he had awakened, he had set to work.
He had started by collecting bodies. It would have been easier to simply go from corpse to corpse and dispose of them individually, but he had felt better carrying them, one by one, back to his camp. He had stripped them of any salvageable weapons and armor, neatly stacking their gear: boltguns in one pile, knives and pistols in another, helmets in a third, backpacks next to them, etc. Then he had piled the bodies; when a pile got so large that he couldn’t add any more, he had ignited it with a flamer. He had sat and watched each pile burn itself out. And then he had started building another pile.
He had gone on like that—hauling bodies, piling bodies, burning bodies—for days. And now, as the flames kissed the night sky, he was done.
“I task you with making sure that each Fighting Tiger here receives a proper funeral,” he remembered Chandramatie Bahl telling him. “While you do that, I want you to reflect on those choices you’ve made that have brought you to this end. When you have completed this task, I recommend that you throw yourself on the last pyre.”
Before he could contemplate that much further, a voice from behind him said something in a language he didn’t understand, but seemed familiar. He looked over his shoulder.
It was the Tau commander, Varkoo,
with a pistol.
“Put that down!” Varkoo shouted in the Tau language, pointing at the flamer Shamshir Talatra had on his lap and motioning to the ground. “Down! Put that down! Right now!”
Slowly, using both hands, Shamshir Talatra gently lowered the flamer to the ground.
“Get up!” Varkoo bellowed. The former Space Marine didn’t move. Varkoo wagged the barrel of the pistol upwards. “Up! Get up!”
Slowly, Shamshir Talatra obeyed.
“Limbs out!” Varkoo demanded. Shamshir Talatra only stared at him. Varkoo pantomimed extending his arms straight out from his sides. “Put your limbs out, stupid animal! Put your limbs out! Yes, like that. Now come here.” He waggled the pistol towards himself. “Come here! Yes. Good! So you can follow orders. Now stop, damn you! I’ll shoot you if you take another step! Yes, that’s it. Keep your limbs out! Keep your limbs out!”
Shamshir Talatra waited, arms spread wide. Varkoo was still several yards off—too far even for a Space Marine to charge without getting shot first.
“Now get down!” Varkoo ordered, jabbing the pistol down. “Get down!”
Slowly, the Space Marine complied, sinking to his knees.
Varkoo pointed at the pyre. “What’s that? A signal fire? No one is going to rescue you.”
Shamshir Talatra said nothing.
“See this?” Varkoo asked, waving the pistol. “Because of you, they left me here. They gave this to me. It has one shot. Just one. I’m supposed to use it on myself. But if I wanted to, I could use it on you.” He pointed the pistol at Shamshir Talatra and pretended to shoot him. “You’re not smart enough to speak my language, but you understand that, don’t you, ‘soldier?’ I could shoot you right through your thick, stupid head and kill you right now.”
Varkoo tossed the pistol. Shamshir Talatra deftly caught it and stood up.
“But I won’t,” Varkoo said. “You’re not good enough for me to waste that shot on you. You, who have no concept of a greater purpose. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been released from my duty, my rank, my title. It doesn’t matter that I’m going to die. I am better than you. So go ahead and shoot me. That’s all you’re good for.”
Shamshir Talatra considered the pistol for a moment, then pointed it at Varkoo’s left eye.
“Filthy …alien,” Varkoo snarled in broken Imperial Gothic.
Shamshir Talatra fired.
“I task you with making sure that each Fighting Tiger here receives a proper funeral,” he remembered Chandramatie Bahl telling him. “While you do that, I want you reflect on those choices you’ve made that have brought you to this end. When you have completed this task, I recommend that you throw yourself on the last pyre.”
Shamshir Talatra carefully added Varkoo’s body to the pyre. Then he sat down again on the flat-topped rock. He picked up a small stone and started squeezing it.
Yes, that’s what you’d like, isn’t it, Bahl? he thought. Or I could be like Varkoo, and dare someone to kill me with my own pistol. Try to prove that I’m some kind of tough guy and not just some failure that got kicked out, like he did.
He squeezed harder. The stone quivered in his fist.
Like I did.
He opened his fist. The stone was still intact. Slowly, he dropped it. It hit the ground, rolled a few inches, and came to rest.
No, he thought. Not your way, Bahl. Not Varkoo’s way, either. My own way.
He stood and walked over to the piles of gear he had taken from the dead Marines. He found a folding trench shovel and started digging into the hard, rocky soil.
By morning, he had buried the guns and armor and wargear of the dead. He rested for a little while on the flat-topped rock. Ate some rations. Sipped some water from his canteen.
The pyre had burned out, leaving only charred bits of bone.
Shamshir Talatra, no longer Raja
of the Fighting Tigers, started walking.
Posted November 2006
Codex <> Tactics <> Gallery <> Allies and Enemies <> Tales of the Tigers