2948-12-22 – Tales from the Service: The Show Trials before Father Thomas
The Fifth Fleet received a batch of reinforcements yesterday at Maribel - a convoy of warships and logistics vehicles put in from the Core Worlds. While I cannot for security reasons describe the full list of vessels that arrived, the replacements were led by the recently-refitted heavy cruiser Holt Danaev, and among the various lesser warships were the first batch of the new Hoel-class fleet destroyers, the tender Saina Kavi with its squadron of six stealth assault cutters, and a number of frigates and corvettes. The new ships are, oddly, a mix of the newest and oldest types in Navy service – Danaev was commissioned only ten years after the Terran-Rattanai War, and Hoel, the lead ship of its class, entered fleet service only nineteen months ago.
Also arriving at Maribel in the last few days, though apparently not assigned to Fifth Fleet, is a detachment of old fast carriers recently pulled out of mothballs, along with an escort screen of equally venerable frigates and destroyers. These vessels – Alacrity, Endurance, Enterprise, and Vigilance, long since withdrawn from front-line duties, are of Terran-Rattanai War vintage, and they have been assigned to the new Seventh Fleet, whose formation was announced by the Admiralty a few weeks ago. This formation, mostly older vessels being brought out of mothballs and crewed with new recruits, is still being filled out – its battle line has not been designated, but will probably focus around the ancient battleships Tranquility and Penglai, both of which were being prepared for careers as traveling museum ships before the opening of hostilities on the Frontier.
What the first batch of Seventh Fleet units is doing at Maribel isn’t yet clear. Perhaps the idea is to take over the defense of Maribel from Fifth Fleet units, or perhaps there is another mission these vessels have been assigned. Most press releases surrounding the activation of the new fleet indicate that this formation is being prepared to take over duties from either Second Fleet or Fourth Fleet on the Silver Strand border, freeing these veteran formations to join the fight against the Incarnation.
This week, we continue our story of the death of Father Thomas Nyilvas (Tales from the Service: Captive with Father Thomas), whose Emmanuel Feast sermon was a popular feature on our datacast hub at this time last year.
The Incarnation officer stared hard at Father Thomas for several long seconds, and in the silence, the distant roar of strike-craft tearing through the planet’s atmosphere echoed into the grotto.
Kev Trujillo, noticing that a fist-sized rock had appeared in Private Winton’s hands, got the young man’s attention and dissuaded him with the slightest shake of the head. There would be time for suicidal escape attempts later.
The silence broke with a sharp, braying laugh from the officer. “A priest is always a fool.” Snatching a long knife from its sheath on one of his soldiers’ belts, the thin-faced man flipped the knife into the air, then tossed it down at Father Thomas’s feet. “Choose your executioner, and I will show you your error before he cuts your throat.”
Father Thomas bent down and picked up the knife, turning it over in his hands. Kev, certain the priest would choose him, felt an icicle of dread stabbing down his spine – he had killed Incarnations soldiers many times, but he could not kill Father Thomas, not even to save the lives of his own men.
Fortunately, it didn’t come to that. The Padre flipped the knife over and held its handle out toward the officer. “Do what you will to me, sir, but do not pretend that the fault lies with anyone but yourself.”
The officer snarled and raised his hand, as if to issue a command to shoot Father Thomas and the other prisoners. Kev didn’t want to die, but he knew being sliced and burned by Incarnation beam carbines would be a quicker death than he would find on a torture-table or in the hold of a hellship, so this development seemed a welcome one.
After hesitating, the officer lowered his hand slowly, visibly furious that his game was being denied. Striding forward, he snatched the knife from the Padre. “Bring them.”
The six soldiers tromped forward and muscled the eight Confederated captives into a double line, then marched them out of the grotto into the blinding sunlight beyond. Even before his eyes adjusted, Kev heard scattered, formulaic jeering from idle Incarnation soldiers who the formation of prisoners passed. The chipheads on the front-line weren’t exactly specimens of remarkable creativity; Kev had heard all the insults now thrown at him at least a dozen times before, shouted across the shifting front-line by day or booming from vehicle-mounted loudspeakers at night.
When Kev was able to look beyond the sun-hardened soil below his feet, he saw a boxy ground vehicle sitting on six huge wheels parked in the center of the camp. Three light point defense lasers had been mounted on its roof seemingly at random, probably to repel marauding Pumas and Yerens, but the canyon was so narrow that only the most precisely aimed bomb or missile could thread its way down to the camp at the bottom.
Atop the big vehicle, a cheery-faced young man in an ostentatious gold and sable uniform sat, his legs dangling over the side. Kev’s heart plunged into his soles; he had heard horrible tales about the Incarnation’s shadowy inquisitors.
The youth smiled kindly at the prisoners, and perhaps those who did not recognize the uniform might be fooled into thinking that this Incarnation officer might be more accommodating than most. “Private Wasi Winton, please step forward.”
Kev winced. Winton hesitated, but two of the soldiers pulled the private out of the line and dragged him up to the side of the vehicle. The youthful soldier struggled feebly, but with dozens of armed Incarnation soldiers watching the inquisitor and his prey warily, there was nowhere to go even if he broke free.
The inquisitor stared at Winton for a few seconds, then spoke again. “You are the Wasi Winton of the town of Colburg Pass, planet Tranquility, Three Two Ori system, correct?”
Visibly shocked, Winton nodded mutely. He didn’t seem to know the significance of the young officer’s uniform, or what this intimate knowledge of his history likely meant was coming.
“Tranquility, the planet of rebels and scoundrels, the planet of thieves who profit off the decay of their species. Your ancestors sought only to amass wealth when they gave the star-drive's fire to the incautious, ignorant masses.” The young man shook his fist in the air. “This mere boy is steeped from birth in the evil which set the clock ticking on humanity’s extinction – he has, throughout his life, even engaged in celebrating it.”
This time, the invective thrown into the fray by the lookers-on was no more creative, but it carried a terrifying amount of emotional energy. Kev glanced around and saw murder in the eyes of the Incarnation troops.
Winton squirmed against the arms of the men holding him in place. “I didn’t do any of that! The Ori Revolution was hundreds-”
The sable-clad young officer jumped down, landing lightly despite a fall of almost four meters. Kev decided the inquisitor probably possessed the extensive body modifications of an Incarnation Immortal. “Private Winton, can you honestly say that, steeped in the culture of your degenerate home, you would do any different?”
Winton stared down the officer for several seconds, and Kev was proud of the relatively timid young man’s bravery. When he did at last speak, the young private’s voice rose loud and clear, without cracking. “I think I would, you chip-headed bastard.”
The young man’s friendly expression vanished, and he looked over to the officer who’d fetched the prisoners from their cave. “Let the record show this man chooses his ancestors’ sins.”
Winton’s head whipped around to face the inquisitor at the same time as the inquisitor’s arm flashed out, inhumanly fast. There was a wet tearing sound, and a spray of crimson droplets glinted in the air, and Winton crumpled to the ground, shrieking and trying in vain to hold in the viscera spilling from his belly. The blade in the inquisitor’s hand – it hadn’t been there a moment before – had moved so fast it hadn’t even had time to wet itself in the man’s blood.
The Padre tried to run forward to Winton’s side, but the officer and two soldiers brought him up short. “You stay here. His sins against mankind do not entitle him to a quick death.” The hollow-faced officer grinned. “You will hear them all admit sins graver than the petty misdeeds they confessed to you, and then you will watch them die.”
“Private Yeong-Hwan Du.” The inquisitor flourished his blade, then stowed it – in his sleeve, Kev thought – with a gesture too fast for the eye to follow. “Please step forward.”
Private Du didn’t force the soldiers to drag him. The big private stepped out on his own, knowing that he was going to his death. Most probably, he had wagered that death by being eviscerated was far less creative than what his captors would do to him otherwise, and Kev suspected this was only too correct.
The inquisitor once again made a show of examining the man set before him, even as Winton whimpered and moaned in the dirt nearby. “You are the Yeong-Hwan Du of the settlement of Jiahao on planet Xianping, Hyades system, correct?”
Kev hadn’t realized that Private Du was Hyadean, and knew immediately that the choice of these two for a mockery of a hearing back-to-back could be no accident.
Du raised his chin. “I make neither defense nor apology for the actions of my ancestors, Inquisitor.” Evidently, he had recognized the uniform, where Winton had not.
The fresh-faced inquisitor waved a hand. “I must know if I am identifying you correctly, Private.”
Du scowled, then nodded. “You are correct.”
“Hyades, the proud and powerful cluster which wants only to be left alone, even when extinction stares us all in the face equally.” The inquisitor raised a finger. “Your ancestors saw the perils of the Ori Revolution, it is true, and they might be commended for that, if they had acted out of altruism to stop it. Instead, humanity fought itself for a hundred precious years, when already doom could be seen coming.”
Du squared his broad shoulders. “Get to the part where you swing your blade, Inquisitor. Your chattering is torture enough.”
The inquisitor’s pleasant façade faltered, if only for an instant, and the malice which flickered forth in that split second seemed to Kev the most perfect impression a living human had ever made of a demon. He turned away, as if to continue his harangue, but Yeong-Hwan Du leapt to tackle the smaller man in sable.
With Immortal speed, the inquisitor spun, and his blade flashed once more, this time in reflexive self-defense. The Hyadean private fell to the ground, a river of blood fountaining from his cleanly sliced neck. Kev Unlike Winton, Private Du had earned a quick death.
The inquisitor and the officer standing in front of Father Thomas shared a meaningful look as the former cleaned his now-dirtied blade on the dead man’s uniform.
“Father Thomas Nyilvas.” The inquisitor once again flourished the blade and stowed it, too quick to follow. “Please step forward.”