2948-12-15 – Tales from the Service: Captive with Father Thomas
It is with no small amount of regret that I must inform this audience of the death of Thomas Nyilvas, a longtime member of the Cosmic Background audience and the star of multiple text feed entries earlier in the war (Tales from the Service: A Pastor and a Prodigal, Tales from the Service: An Immortal's Contrition, and Tales from the Service: The Padre’s Angel). His Emmanuel Feast sermon from last year aboard Xavior Vitalli is still available on our datasphere hub.
Though his last published posting was to Hugo Marge as chaplain, it seems that our departed Padre and about twenty others, mostly Marines from the ship’s compliment, headed down to Margaux during the maneuvers following the first Battle of Margaux. Though there is no official record of his transfer to the garrison, it is likely that Captain Mlyarnik of Marge gave permission for this transfer, as I have heard stories of several other vessels’ crews contributing volunteers to the defense of Margaux in those same inconclusive hours.
Nyilvas accompanied a patrol of F.D.A. Infantrymen out from the Ishkawa Line on 6 December. Evidently, their purpose was at least partly to recover wounded soldiers of both sides left in the open after an Incarnation mass charge was broken up by an F.D.A. counterattack stiffened by the support of about a dozen Marines and a single armored ground vehicle. After making several trips out of the Ishkawa fortifications into the canyons to bring back the wounded and dead, the patrol was set upon and captured by a larger Incarnation force. Three of the seventeen F.D.A soldiers returned to friendly lines, and it is from their reports that the last moments of Father Thomas were documented, and from their accounts – mainly that of Sergeant Kevin “Kev” Trujillo, we have decided to dedicate this space in the closing weeks of this trying year to telling his story as best we are able.
After receiving multiple recommendations through both the usual chain and through what the Navy charitably calls “alternative communications,” Thomas Nyilvas has been formally awarded a posthumous Centaur Cross. In the same announcement that included the award, the Navy also indicated that it would be naming the third Chihiro Kidd-class Hospital ship (due to be launched early in January) Thomas Nyilvas.
[N.T.B. - The views of our eyewitness here with respect to the Navy are damnably wrong, and reflect worse on the F.D.A rumor mills that spawned them than on the Navy itself.]
Sergeant Kev Trujillo woke to find someone shaking him. As usual, he had no bed but the bitter rocks of Margaux, but his shoulders’ protest at the odd angle they were forced into and the resistance to his feeble attempts to reach out to slap away the person disturbing his hard-won rest told him that something was different – different in a concerningly wrong sort of way.
“Sarge, they’re coming.” Private Wasi Winton, voice high and cracking, shook Kev again. “What are we going to do?”
Only upon opening his eyes and seeing the panicked glint in the younger soldier’s eyes did Kevin remember that the odd resistance holding his arms was a thick synthsilk cord binding his forearms together behind his back. This odd restraint posture also explained his shoulders’ complaints – if the Nates didn’t untie his hands soon, the old shrapnel wound in his upper back might start acting up again.
Pain from old scars was, of course, the least of Kev’s problems. “Pipe down, Winton.” He shook his head, struggling to rise to a sitting position. “What we’re going to do is say no to them, then die with honor, Private. You got that?”
Winton nodded, regaining some of his composure. Though he was only nineteen T-years old, the young private was already a veteran of dozens of canyon skirmishes and the long retreat from Judicael. He could face death unflinching, and Kev was proud of that fact, given that at the beginning of the battle, young infantrymen like Winton had seen nothing of the horrors war always wrought. If the Navy had been able to attract youths like Winton instead of the sniveling cowards it seemed to collect in droves, Margaux would never have been invaded – the Incarnation would have been stopped cold at Mereena or Adimari Valis.
“It’s not... Not really the death part I’m worried about, Sarge.” Winton rubbed his grimy hands over his equally grimy face, and Kev envied the younger man’s lack of bindings. Of the ten of them who had been captured, their captors had bound only Kev and Corporal Lyndon before throwing their whole catch into a shadowy grotto just behind the forward Incarnation outposts, which smelled as if it had been used as a temporary holding pen for prisoners many times before. Despite no obvious surveillance, Kev had insisted that nobody untie him – and his instincts had been proven right when glassy-eyed Nate soldiers had hauled away both Lyndon and the man who had untied him. The bloodcurdling screams from just outside the grotto had only lasted about a minute, and left no doubt as to the punishment meted out for this arbitrary crime.
The eight remaining captives had been left unsupervised in their stone pen for the remainder of the night, and now, gray dawn had begun to filter down into the canyon outside, illuminating the fear on each haggard face.
Only the Padre, who appeared at Winton’s shoulder at the same time as Kev heard the crunch of boots outside for himself appeared unconcerned. “Death is the worst they can do, my son. Anything worse, we must do to ourselves.”
Kev, remembering the inhuman sounds which had been wrung from the throats of the two men for whom death had already come, didn’t think this a very strong reassurance, but Winton nodded and straightened a little. It didn’t seem fair that Father Thomas, who had come along only to comfort the dying men who littered the scene of battle, broken and with cyanotic pustules of Margaux life already sprouting in their gory wounds as they choked the bitter air for a few more minutes or hours. He wasn’t F.D.A., or even with the Marines – he was one of the few brave or foolhardy Navy personnel who had landed on the toxic, broken soil of Margaux to join the fight up close.
Given that he, like any chaplain, carried no weapons and wore only the flimsiest armor-vest below his cassock, his decision to join the groundside fight seemed rather insane by Kev’s standards, but the Padre could never be described as madman.
“Padre’s right.” Kev rolled his neck and faced the cave’s narrow mouth where the tromping boots of their tormentors would soon arrive. “It’s been an honor, boys.”
Six Incarnation soldiers in their slate-gray regalia marched in automaton-crisp formation around the corner, temple-implants blinking furiously and eyes burning with misplaced hatred for their prisoners, as if Kev and his remaining men had personally strapped the Nates down to a table and drilled skull sockets for their implants with hand-drills. Braketed neatly within the box created by these six, a tall, sunken-cheeked officer glared with equal malice, but significantly more animation.
Struggling against his bonds, Kev lurched to his feet, and the others did the same. None said anything; they had all heard the stories of forcible implantation, excruciating torture, and hellships. Even the greenest Private on Margaux knew better than to ask for or expect fair prisoner-of-war treatment from Nate. The Incarnation’s propaganda painted Confederate defenders of the Frontier as hastening the extinction barreling down upon humanity, and though the idea was a joking matter behind Confederated lines, the rank and file of the invaders took it very seriously.
“Murderers all.” The officer’s venomous tone matched the sneer on his face. “Decadent and useless.”
Kev recognized that his men were not the target of this invective – the audience was the officer’s own soldiers, to whom his men were being dehumanized. He glanced around, trying to snag the eyes of the more hot-headed of his remaining men. If any of them rose to the insult, their fate would be worse than that of Lyndon and the well-intentioned private who’d loosed him.
Though some of the men clenched their jaws or scowled back at the officer, none replied to him. This silence seemed to irritate the officer, who perhaps had expected one of the prisoners to reinforce his case with an impassioned outburst. “They know their sins. Perhaps some of them want to repent of their ways and save their pathetic lives.”
Kev knew this implied offer to be a lie, but perhaps facing imminent death, some of his men might decide to believe it. That would be the start of the worse things the Padre had hinted at, but it would grant them a hideous sort of reprieve only long enough for the Incarnation to drag out a pseudo-religious show-trial.
Father Thomas took a step forward toward the officer. “Sir, these men have already repented of their sins and been cleansed.”
Kev’s jaw dropped. Of all the men who might break the silence impulsively, he had not expected it to be the calm, patient chaplain. The Padre had to know better than anyone that the Incarnation didn’t mean sins in the same sense as the Spacers’ Chapel – why was he sticking his neck onto the block? Did he think that would save anyone?
“Have they?” The officer seemed to notice Father Thomas for the first time, his eyes widening hungrily at the sight of the battered and torn chaplain’s cassock hanging over the prisoner’s uniform. Rumors had circulated of Nate offering bounties on particular varieties of Confederated personnel – medics, Marine officers, downed pilots, and even chaplains. “Are you willing to risk your life on that?”
Some of the men leaned forward, as if to spring to Father Thomas’s defense, but the Padre merely smiled. “A life is no great thing to wager. Even your dogma says so.”