‘All clear. Bastard’s jumped, we’ll never find him.’
Haeric cursed as Moxiter pulled off his helmet and resp hood. The man’s flank was covered in Gallus’ blood, the dark red merging into the navy blue - black of his carapace body armour.
‘Well. At least he didn’t get him.’
‘He got one of us, couple of Vedneks, one of the General’s bodyguards.’ Moxiter’s gums were locked together. ‘On our watch.’
‘There was nothing we could have done, Mox.’
‘Maybe.’ Moxiter sighed. ‘Well, better let Rupert know I guess, wherever he is.’
‘Certainly not what he needed just before he left us.’
The other soldier gave a curt laugh. ‘No. Useless idiot. Not the worst, Sarge, but we’ll be better off without him.’
‘I’m not so sure, Mox. I’m not so sure.’ He turned to Alec Deleon, the Gan-Haden vox officer, who was in the process of cleaning the lens on his lasgun’s sight. ‘Anyone else get hit?’
The Wildcard soldier grimaced. ‘Ah.’
‘Ah, what?’ Haeric frowned.
‘You…haven’t been upstairs yet then?’
‘Why would we have been?’ enquired Moxiter.
‘Then…well. You’d better go up.’ Deleon walked slowly up the stairs. Apprehensively, the two Jaegers followed.
‘I’m sorry, boys. I really am. I thought you knew.’
Malvolius lay at the top of the stairs. The young officer’s eyes stared blankly upwards, like one entranced by the beauty of the sky, of the sunlight that streamed in through the broken window and illuminated his face.
Haeric knelt beside his former CO. The small, neat wound in his throat, a trio of puncture marks, was a deep crimson against the man’s white throat. There were footsteps along the corridor - Colonel Strife and Commissar Joseph had strode along the upper balcony. Haeric couldn’t make his body respond to their presence.
‘Commissar. Colonel.’ he said quietly. Moxiter stood, leaning against a pillar, seemingly not knowing what to say.
‘Sergeant.’ Colonel Strife walked over to Haeric. ’For what it’s worth, I don’t think he suffered.’
Joseph shook his head. ’All we heard was one shot and the window breaking.’ He cleared his throat. ’He was a good officer, Sergeant.’
‘Really, or are you just saying that because you think you should?’
‘Careful, Sergeant.’ Joseph’s reply was icy. ‘Remember who I am.’
Haeric’s head dropped, beads of sweat following his skull’s arc and, hurled free, splashed onto the ground. ‘Yes, Commissar. Forgive me, I’m…’
‘I know, Sergeant. We lose subordinates, we lose superiors, sometimes we lose both. But the Emperor has a plan for all of us. Our place not to wonder, but to serve. And serve well do you and your men.’ Joseph walked past, gently patting the crouching Jaeger on the shoulder. ‘We all lost a good man today in the Captain. But he is now at the right hand of the Emperor, where we all shall stand one day. Think on that, Sergeant. Think on that.’ The Commissar removed his black and red cape, and handed it to the standing Moxiter.
The two officers’ footsteps disappeared down the stairs, leaving the two Jaegers with the fallen Captain.
‘He’s right, Sarge.’ Moxiter knelt beside Haeric, his dark hair and stubble laden with perspiration. He took Joseph’s cloak, and unfurled it, draping it over Malvolius’ remains.
‘One moment.’ Haeric was unmoving, looking down at the empty, sightless green eyes of the dead Captain. His left hand reached out, fingers closing over Janmar Malvolous’ eyes forever.
‘Goodbye.’ A lump rose in his throat, his heart racing, breathing coming fast and hot.
‘Sir.’ Haeric gently leaned over, and kissed Malvolius’ lips. Then he rose. Moxiter let the Commissar’s cloak gently fall, concealing their superior’s remains.
Then, the two Jaegers turned, and walked down the steps as the evening sunlight shone weakly on their backs, its gold beams tainted with the blood-red of dusk.