Big Game V – Chapter Twenty Five: Promotion

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Antonius’ skin burnt to a crisp in an instant under the harsh heat of the white-hot iron.  The chevron pattern was branded onto the top of his hand.  His enhanced body bore the pain easily.

“As Vulkan did so long ago, so do we mark you, Antonius.  Kneel.” Alexsandr intoned.  He was almost unintelligible with his thick Valhallan accent, especially when performing the rituals of the Promethean Cult, but Antonius had seen the ritual enough times to know.  Alexsandr placed a wreath of laurels atop his spray of curly locks.  “Rise, Sergeant Antonius.”  Antonius stood, to the salute of 2nd Squad.  “Your orders.”  Alexsandr said as he offered a scroll sealed with red wax.  Antonius took it, bowed his head, and turned.  His face was like stone, but inside he was flying.  Sergeant Antonius.  He resisted the urge to grin as he opened the orders.  He turned quickly, and caught Alexsandr before he could finish his duties.

“Sir, are these orders correct?”

“Atrus dictated them to me himself, Antonius.  You have been assigned to the 4th Company.  Report to the Strike Cruiser Honor for assignment.”  Alexsandr answered.  Antonius, confused, turned again to leave.  Why the 4th Company?  As young as he was he did not have the experience to be a Sergeant, much less one in the main battle companies.  He had, until this point, been a part of the 6th company tactical reserves.  Antonius was deep in thought for his entire trip to the Honor.  He was directed to the main chapel, where Captain Ganendra and the 4th Company Senior Staff received him.  All of them clapped as he entered, except for Sergeant Gehn, whose face was cold and suspicious.  Captain Ganendra spoke when the applause had quieted.

“Welcome, Brother Antonius.  You are requested and required to take command of the 5th Tactical Squad of the 4th Company.  Here is your personnel manifest.”

“Thank you, sir.  I will not let you down.”  He answered.

“I expect nothing less than excellence from the hero of Tenkath Hive.  Your past action report shows that you have the steel to lead.”  Despite Antonius’ mental conditioning, his face turned red.  He was not used to such praise.

“I did only what was necessary, Captain.”

“That is all that service requires, Antonius. To do what is necessary.  No matter the cost.  Now, Chaplain Hakan will distribute devotional wine to toast the new Sergeant.”  The Chaplain poured several tumblers of the wine, and a servitor distributed them.  Antonius took one last.

“To Sergeant Antonius: may his judgment be righteous and his heart loyal.” Chaplain Hakan shouted.  The room raised their glasses and sipped.  The wine was sweet and bitter, and Antonius felt his Oolitic kidney pump powerful anti-toxins to counteract the alcohol.

“Now, Antonius, report to deck eight, starboard Armoury to change your heraldry.  It would not do for a sergeant of the 4th company to display the markings of the 6th!” Ganendra ordered.  Antonius nodded and turned.  As he did, he noticed sergeant Gehn’s glass still full of wine.  Antonius felt a chill in his spine.  Had he done something wrong?  He unconsciously itched at his branded hand as he marched through the corridors.  Gehn’s icy blue eyes haunted him.  There had never been any animosity between his brothers that he had noticed before.  Antonius concluded that he must have misread Gehn’s intentions, and pushed the disturbing thoughts from his consciousness.  By the time he got to the Armoury, he had forgotten all about it.

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