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Tales of the Tigers

Traveller of Both Time and Space: Episode 5 
Synopsis: Raja Shamshir Talatra, one of the two commanders of the Fighting Tigers of Veda Space Marine Chapter, has been struck down by a Bloodthirster and is mere moments from death…

“Come over here for a moment, Raja,” said Inquisitor Varman Kumar. “I’d like to speak with you for a little while.”

Raja Shamshir Talatra paused. He had been about to heft the Ebon Blade and defend himself from the Bloodthirster that had sprung from the burning corpse of Clavius, a Red Corsair. He looked around. All the figures around him—the Bloodthirster, Librarian Chandramatie Bahl, the other Fighting Tigers—stood motionless, fuzzy and flickering even to Shamshir Talatra’s augmented eyes. Only he and Kumar appeared in focus; everyone else was a still, indistinct shade.

Sword tight in his grip, Shamshir Talatra warily approached Kumar. “Is this some kind of a trick? Or is this really you, Inquisitor? Or am already dead and this is an afterlife?” For some reason, the last option seemed most likely to him.

The old Inquisitor bowed his turbaned head, right hand placed on his brow. “Yes, this is some kind of trick: temporal manipulation. Yes, this is really I. No, you are not dead—at least not the ‘you’ that I am speaking with. Now that ‘you’ over there,” he said, pointing to a crumpled heap several yards away, “is dying. Still, I think that both of ‘you’—the one I am speaking to and the one over there—will survive. Which is why I have come.”

Shamshir Talatra gingerly stepped around the immobile Chandramatie Bahl and looked down at his other self. His neck and limbs bent at unnatural angles, his red eyes were glazed, and blood trickled from every crack of his scorched and shattered armor. He leaned forward and reached out to touch his inert other self.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Kumar said. 

“Why not? What would happen?”

“The easiest way to think of our current situation is that you and I are standing in an air bubble floating on top of an ocean. If you don’t touch the sides of the bubble, the bubble won’t pop and we’ll stay above water. If you try to touch something outside the bubble, the bubble either expands with you to take in what you’re trying to touch—or it pops. If you pop the bubble, we drown. Understand?”

“I think so,” Shamshir Talatra said, pulling back his hand. “But how can that right there,” he said, pointing to his other self, “be me when I’m right here with you?”

As Varman Kumar came closer to him, he tugged at something at his belt. Shamshir Talatra raised his sword, but the old man held only a flask. “Hold out your hand,” he told the Raja, and poured some water into Shamshir Talatra’s cupped palm. 

“Imagine that the water in your hand is you right now, the ‘you’ I’m speaking with.” Kumar poured some water into his own hand. “And this is the ‘you’ that’s lying over there, badly injured and near death. The water in your hand is distinct from the water in mine, but ultimately, it’s the same substance from the same source. Understand?”

“No,” Shamshir Talatra said, opening his hand and spilling the water.

“Hmm. Let’s try again,” the Inquisitor said. “How old are you, Raja?”

“Four hundred and seventeen years.”

“And when you were a mere seventeen years old, were you ‘you,’ or were you someone else?”

“I was me, of course. Who else would I be?”

“Of course—who else could you be? And if Vishnu grants you another two hundred years, so that you reach the age of six hundred-seventeen, will you be ‘you’ or will you be someone else?”

“I’ll be me, of course.”

“Of course. Well, that ‘you’ over there is ‘you,’ all right, but he’s not the ‘you’ of four hundred years ago or the ‘you’ of two hundred years from now. He’s the ‘you’ about two seconds from now, after that Bloodthirster hits you with its whip. I’ve plucked ‘you’ out of the timestream—”

“To save me from the Bloodthirster?”

“No. Don’t interrupt,” Kumar replied. “I’ve brought you here to tell you something.”

Shamshir Talatra pointed his sword at the Bloodthirster. “If you haven’t noticed, Inquisitor, I don’t really have time to talk right now.”

“Try not to be so stupid. Of course you don’t have time—that’s why I’ve made time, right now. With this.” He held out a featureless gray orb. 

“Inquisitor, I have a battle to fight. Put me back where you found me and come visit later—then we can talk.”

“There isn’t a ‘later.’ I’ve waited as long as I could. We must talk now, Raja.”

“What do you mean? You said I would survive. So if I’m going to survive, tell me what you have to tell me later.”

“You’ll probably survive, I said,” Kumar replied. “But even if you do, I will not be able to reach you. You’ll be too far away. Trust me on that.”

“I don’t trust anyone, Inquisitor. Now put me back.” 

“I’ve chosen to speak to ‘you’—the ‘you’ at this stage of your life—”

“Damn it, Kumar, don’t make me—”

“I told you not to interrupt me,” the old Inquisitor whispered, and suddenly, Shamshir Talatra felt his resistance erased, like a corrupted file deleted from a cognition engine. 

“All right. I’m listening.”

“I’ve chosen to speak to ‘you’—the ‘you’ at this stage of your life—because you possess great power. Not physical power—you’re no stronger, tougher, or faster than other Space Marines. No, your ‘great power’ is that you command half the Fighting Tigers. Have you ever read Benjumon’s Fourth Addendum to the Codex Astartes?”

“No.” 

“In it, Benjumon states that ‘With great power comes great opportunity.’ In your position as co-regent of the Fighting Tigers, you will soon have a great opportunity.”

“What do you mean?”

“I have traveled to several of your possible futures. In all of them, you will, very soon, have a choice that may have substantial effect on you, your Chapter, and millions of lives.”

“I doubt that.”

“It’s true.” 

“So what’s the choice?”

“If I tell you now, that foreknowledge may skew your decision and negatively affect your future. You will—well, at least you should, if you pay attention—recognize the choice when it occurs. And when it does occur, I’m counting on you to make the wrong decision.”

“What?”

“You must make the wrong choice. Try to remember that.” 

The Inquisitor vanished. 

Everything started moving again. 

The Bloodthirster, impossibly fast for something nearly the size of a Vinyamghali Aliphant, flicked its fiery lash, searing Shamshir Talatra across his breastplate. He shrieked as white, crackling warp energy shattered every bone in his augmented body and fried every circuit in his armor. As he fell, he realized distantly—as if it were happening to someone else—that both his hearts had stopped. He hit the ground, blood spewing from his ears and nose and mouth.
 

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Related Pages
Raja Shamshir Talatra
Fighting Tigers Glossary and Pronunciation Guide
 

Posted December 2004. 

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Other Pages:
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