"Raiyah! How could he miss that one?" Katsuro Daichi, Cadet Commissar, shouted as the star kickballer missed an obvious goal attempt.
"That means 2-1 to the Helsreachians, Cadet Daichi," the bartender, a stout, middle-aged man named Fermeaux said softly. "Seems you'll lose our little bet, then."
"The game's not over yet," Daichi said confidently.
"The Helsreachians aren't up to it," a voice said softly by Daichi's side. The young Cathayan turned and looked at the tall, lean figure in the black greatcoat. The bluish-black hair that stuck out from underneath his peaked cap gave him away.
Commissar General Rolf Yarrick sat down next to his cadet. Katsuro Daichi wasn't his first cadet. He was his third and most promising so far.
"Really, why do you reckon so, sir?" Daichi asked.
"They've been dragged around with player damage for a long time," Yarrick said simply. "Also, the Armageddon Commissarial team is quite good, no?"
"They are," Fermeaux agreed. "The usual, commissar general?"
"If that means Callidussian whiskey; yes, please," Yarrick replied amiably. Daichi took the chance to have a refill of his Cathayan sake.
Yarrick spun round on his chair and took in the entire of Upper Spire Bar 23/gn, also known as the "Skull and Laurel" because of all the commissars who frequented it after they'd gone off-duty. There were mostly Armageddon Commissars at the Skull and Laurel, but it happened that Imperial Commissars, like Yarrick and Daichi, dropped in. Of course, Yarrick was the leader of the military junta of Armageddon and Daichi was his cadet, so they were both more or less stationed here on unknown time, but still.
Yarrick looked back at Daichi. "Do you want another reason that the Helreachians won't win, Katsuro?"
Daichi tore his eyes from the tele-slate and looked at Yarrick. "Go ahead, sir."
"If they now do win, against all odds," Yarrick said with a soft smile, "and do knock out the Commissarial team, the Commissariat of Armageddon will claim that the tournament never took place."
Daichi snorted with laughter. He was already familiar with how the Commissariat functioned, despite his tender age of twenty. Heck, Yarrick thought, at that age, I was a commissar cadet as well. Now, he silently reflected, he was to be seventy years old next month. And he didn't look a day over thirty.
There was a shrill whistle-blow from the tele-slate, and the entire bar erupted into cheers. Armageddon Commissarial had won, and Daichi had lost his bet with the bartender. Daichi easily fished out fifty Imperial crowns from his waistcoat pocket.
"C'est la vie," Fermeaux said as he scooped down the Imperial crowns into his big hands. "Better luck next time, mon fils."
"Hai," Daichi replied, using his own dialect of Low Gothic to counter Fermeaux' Low Armageddonian. "Next time. If there's going to be one."
Yarrick raised his glass. "For the Armageddon Commissarial kickball team, Katsuro. Worthy opponents and winners, no?"
"Yes, indeed," Daichi replied and raised his own glass. "As we say on Cathay: Wunsai!" With that, Daichi knocked the shot back easily.
"Wunsai," Yarrick replied and sipped his own drink.
The evening continued in a cheery mood for all of them. However, at half-past one, Yarrick felt enough was enough and thanked everyone present for the fine company they'd been, as he'd always had done. He tried to convince Daichi to come with him, but the young commissar cadet wanted to stay with the others. Yarrick decided to leave well enough alone and left by himself.
For being a hive, Hive Infernus was awfully quiet at night. At least in the upper spires. The sodium lamps that had been lighted as the night-cycle had been begun cast stark light and equally stark shadows all around.
Yarrick wondered if there were places were the sodium lights never shone their crime-damning light. He also wondered, what he'd be doing with his life. He was now sixty-nine years Standard Imperial. Soon to be seventy.
And he had no children.
The thought struck him as a battle-axe. He was famous and powerful, everything an ambitious man would want to be, but he had no family to share it with. The thought saddened him, to say the least. Where would he find a wife? Who would love him in any other way than as the Liberator of Armageddon? He thought of old Hendrik Irwin. The old man was over eighty now, nearly ninety. Irwin had loved him as a son, hadn't he? Same went for Chomaki in those days.
But Yarrick had played the son. He wanted to play the patriarch for once. He wanted someone who loved him in the word's sexual sense too.
He came to think of Skuli, but that had been a master-servant relation. And Skuli had the same relationship with Irwin, who was the main concern of the little mutant these days.
A sudden pang crossed Yarrick's mind again, and the horror of it made him stop dead in his tracks.
He was the last member of his entire family! The Yarrick family would end with him, if he didn't do something about it. Suddenly, it seemed to him that it was his duty to find a wife to love and have children with, not only something his love-sick heart longed for.
Yarrick shook his head. He was going to life forever in the annals and codices of Imperial History, and most surely mortally as well, but he'd never leave anything behind. No children. No grand-children. Life had a cruel sense of humour.
Fiona McAllen, born Icharian but now in the Upper Spires of Infernus Hive, felt for once safe. It wasn't often she felt safe. Her entire life had been a long run to escape something. The latest example was the pimp she'd been working for. "His property", eh? Right. She had her own soul and nobody would have it if she didn't want them to. They could take her body, frekk, they could take her. But they wouldn't ever have her soul.
She was young, not more than twenty-three years old, and painfully beautiful. She'd never needed the use of make-up, not even in her so-called profession. Men had chosen her anyway. And they paid really good, though she'd only get a little share of that. At current, her brown hair was long and tied in a pony-tail. As all people of her planet, she was tatooed. Hers was a blue Icharian knot over her right wrist. She was wearing a knee-length, white jeans skirt, black tanktop in velvet and a white jeans jacket. Her feet were in white sneakers and gold necklaces hung around her neck. Despite she wasn't at work, she was an inviting sight.
She stopped dead. What had that sound been? She shrugged and kept on going. She passed a dark alleyway.
And a massive hand reached out and snatched her from the street. It placed itself over her mouth, clamping it shut so she wouldn't scream. Fiona didn't scream outwardly, but inwardly she screamed for it to stop, to never happen again. She was right, in a way...
Yarrick strolled down the gantry. His mind was still heavy with thoughts of family and much else. He thought of paying Irwin a visit again. It always calmed his mind to see the old man. He had much experiences from life and was a great knower of people. What Irwin lacked physically, he more than well made up psychologically. Hendrik Irwin was his surrogate father, Yarrick had to conclude.
He passed an alleyway and heard some muffled sounds from it. At first he thought it was homeless trying to make some sort of ranking and a cosy jumble to keep warm. It took Yarrick five seconds to recall that he was in Hive Infernus' Upper Spire. There were no homeless people here!
He walked back and strolled silently into the alley. It was dark, but he could clearly make out what was happening.
There was one big man, not as tall as himself, but much broader. He was holding a girl firmly in his muscly arms. He had two companions, shorter and lankier, unbuckling their waistbelts and getting ready.
"Gentlemen," Yarrick said softly, but he got their attention immediately. "I don't think the young lady wants to, so let her go."
"Frekk off, spirer!" the thug shouted. "Who the hell do you think you are?"
Yarrick reached into his coat and picked out a light-stick. It was a common thing employed by Guardsmen who didn't want to waste batteries and only needed very little light. Thing with the light-sticks was, that if in contact with flammable material, they would ignite the material in question.
Yarrick broke off the top of the ten centimetres long light-stick and dropped it into a pile of papers. He aimed no contemplation as to why there was a pile of paper there.
The paper-pile broke into flames. The yellowish flames gave light to the scene. There was the thug, holding a beautiful young woman firmly, so that his two friends could her easily.
And there was Commissar General Rolf Yarrick in his black dress-uniform. He looked straight back at the thug, who now had a very shocked expression on his face.
"I think I am an Imperial Commissar," Yarrick replied coolly.
Before the two lanky men had time to draw their laspistols, Yarrick had smoothly drawn his own side-arm: Chomaki's bolt pistol. The weapon still served him gallantly.
The bolt weapon barked once and glanced the nearest of the lanky twosome's throat. The result was that half of the man's neck disappeared. He fell to the ground, stone dead.
The second one fired his las pistol at Yarrick. The shot would've hit, if Yarrick hadn't had his extroadinary reflexes. He dodged to the left and fired his bolt pistol again. The shot struck the man in his pistol holding hand, exploding the las pistol and the man's hand. He fell screaming to the ground.
The thug threw off the girl, who landed on the ground next to the screaming and convulsing man without any right hand.
"I give frekk in that you're a black coat or not, you're gonna die, man!" the thug roared and he charged in with his fists at Yarrick. Instead of firing another round and finishing the job quick and easy, Yarrick sent one of his legs into the elbow of the onrushing thug, breaking it. The force of the kick sent the thug off balance. He crashed to the ground, whimpering and holding his broken left elbow.
Yarrick grabbed the thug's head by what little hair he had left and pulled the man's face up to face him. With his free hand, Yarrick raised the bolt pistol and pointed it between the thug's eyes.
"Bang," Yarrick said silently, "you're dead."
For being a man whom his entire life had relied on muscle power and some brute resemblence of courage, the big thug wet himself for the first time since he'd been three years old.
"Raiyah!" Cadet Daichi yepled as he entered the alleyway together with three other commissars. "Yarrick-san, what has happened here?"
"Cadet Daichi," Yarrick said slowly, "get a medic, and an arbitrator. These men are accused of rape..." Yarrick went silent. "Or attempted rape. It still rings disgustingly in my ears. To sink so low." He pulled a little in the thug's hair. "I should shoot you here and now, know that!" He then let go.
"All three?" Daichi said and indicated the two prone men.
"Only two, one is dead," Yarrick replied coolly. Daichi scurried away to find what he'd been ordered and took one of the Armageddonian commissars with him. The other two went to help the two criminals into the street so it would be easier for the arbiters to pick them up.
Yarrick, on the other hand, went over to the young woman. He helped her up and quickly saw how torn her clothes were. Instinctively, he got out of his greatcoat and offered it to her. The air was a bit chilly this night.
She gladly took it and put it on. He walked her out of the alley.
"Dare I ask for your name, sir," she asked cautiously. Yarrick noted her rich Icharian dialect. He didn't blame her for being afraid. The warrior in him was a terrible thing to see up close, especially if you weren't used to it.
"I am Imperial Commissar Rolf Yarrick," he said and looked at her. God-Emperor she was beautiful! If he was to have a wife, he'd want one like her.
"The Liberator of Armageddon?" she said, startled.
"Are there any other Yarricks of your knowledge?" Yarrick said and cocked an eyebrow.
She shook her head.
"Can I ask for you name, miss," Yarrick asked politely.
"Fiona McAllen," she replied. "Thank you so much, commissar. But I wasn't cautious. I should've been."
"You were cautious. They are the criminals, not you. Tell me, miss McAllen, is it a crime on Ichar to be born pretty?"
She shook her head again.
"Good," Yarrick said and smiled. "Neither is it on Callidus."
Little did he know that this was only the beginning of the happiest part of his life.
Rolf Yarrick looked up into the sky. He was back on his home-soil; County Invas, Callidus. And he loved every second of it. It was all made better that today he was to be married to one of the most beautiful, loving and intelligent women he'd ever met.
The sky had the same colour as the Omega Squadron Space Outlaws' armour, he concluded to himself. And not a cloud in sight! The last two years had thankfully been very silent on the war-front. A few skirmishes, but that was all.
Deep within, he knew Kharn was planning something. However, he decided not to bother his mind with this. Not now anyway.
He checked himself over. He was clad in his best dress-uniform. Black greatcoat, something that would make him sweat enourmously as soon as he got out into the sun, with all his medals pinned to his chest. Well, at least the most prolific of them. He also wore a silver frogged black tunic, black dress-breeches with a red edging. His jackboots had given way to more ordinary foot-wear. But his shoes were polished shining black and immaculate. His leather gloves were artic white and his black peaked cap was decorated with gilt braids and the golden aquila along with the red edging.
He turned round and saw McGranth. Grand Commander Eddie McGranth. His best man and one of his best friends. McGranth was dressed in his Tactical Dreadnought armour, though unarmed. The armour had been repaired and polished. Several honour parchments and seals were attached to his armour, not to mention marks of brilliance he had around his neck.
Next to McGranth was Commissar Katsuro Daichi. He was too dressed in commissarial dress uniform, just as Yarrick. His medals were just half a dozen and that was most surely all he owned. Yarrick liked the young man quite a lot.
On one of the benches out in the sun, Yarrick spotted old man Irwin. The old white-haired man was wearing a black dress-suit and was sweating profusely as a result. Yarrick silently reflected over how small and hunched Irwin seemed. He was ninety now, Yarrick marvelled. Ninety years old and still having energy enough to come to something like this.
Shame be if he hadn't, as Irwin had said himself.
And Skuli sat just behind him.
"Rolf," a soft voice said behind him, "what are you thinking about?"
Yarrick turned and looked at Fiona McAllen, soon to be Fiona Yarrick. She was just as beautiful as the first day he'd met her, more than a year ago.
"Not much," Rolf replied and held her lightly around the waist. "Just how perfect this day is..."
Fiona only smiled softly. They both knew that her white dress, although symbolizing purity, did cover a wonderful secret. Within a month, it would be impossible for Fiona to try to hide it any more. And only then would Yarrick tell his colleagues and friends about it.
She put her arms around Yarrick's neck and hugged him tightly. She wanted to kiss him, but today's first kiss would be symbolic for all people present.
The cardinal came out of the cathedral of County Invas and smiled at the couple to be united in holy matrimony. He was a thin man with a good-natured face.
"Shall we proceed?" he asked softly, and the commissar and the young woman nodded.
Neither Rolf Yarrick nor Fiona McAllen did listen too closely, but still they knew what to say. They'd known it for over five months now.
Commissar Daichi brought Yarrick the ring for Fiona's finger whilst McGranth brought Fiona the ring for Yarrick's finger.
The long awaited kiss came and went.
For the loving couple, Rolf and Fiona Yarrick from now, the rest of the day went quick and endlessly slow at the same time. For them, there was little else in the world this day than each other. But it would change, they both knew.
So better make the most out of the day.
Carpe diem, Yarrick thought silently. Well, I truly have, no?
"He hasn't got much time left, master! You must come!"
The words still stung to his mind.
Rolf Yarrick sighed heavily. He had everything now. A loving wife and two wonderful girls; three-year-old Eloni, after an aunt Fiona had, and one-year-old Viktoria, which Yarrick named after his old mentor Chomaki.
But now, another important part of his life was slipping away.
Yarrick looked away from the window. The weather outside was sunny and clear and not at all suitable for such a dreadful day. He slowly walked over to the bed in the centre of the room. Yarrick caught himself Skuli's attention and gestured to him to leave the room.
After that, he sat down on the bed and clasped Hendrik Irwin's gnarled hand. The small old man looked back at him and smiled weakly. Irwin was very old now; in his nineties. His hair was as thick as ever, but it was white, not grey any more. And it went without mentioning how thin Irwin had grown.
Physically, Irwin was dying. Yarrick knew that all too well. Irwin's body was ten, maybe twenty years older than it should be. Yarrick knew why. The same had happened to his grand-uncle. It was something you got the commissarial occupation, one could say.
But despite that his ailing body was going to kill him, Irwin still kept his spirits up it seemed. His mind was just as clear as ever. Perhaps clearer still.
Yarrick sighed again.
"Rolf, please," Irwin said and patted Yarrick's hand with his free one. "You must've known this? I am not like you. I age. I've grown old. It happens to everyone sooner or later."
"But not me..." Yarrick muttered darkly. He looked up into Irwin's warm brown eyes. "Do you regret anything in life, Hendrik?"
Irwin looked nonplussed for a while and then said, "Well, that would be signing on for staff service all those years ago, but then I wouldn't have you, right?" Yarrick nodded his assent. "Okay, so then I don't really have any regrets. My life has been damn good, you should know."
"I do," Yarrick whispered silently. "It's just... Damn..." He wiped away the tears that had gathered in his eyes, but there were new ones to take their places. Yarrick also had this thick clot in his throat. He hadn't felt like this since Uncle Caspar had died in his lap. Chomaki's death hadn't given that feeling, but Irwin's did.
However, in both the earlier cases, Yarrick had been on the field of battle, or at least had a fight near, so he could went his sorrow as anger and fury. But know, in the home of Hendrik Irwin, in times of peace, there was nothing like that to relieve him.
Yarrick bore the full brunt of sorrow for the first time in his life.
Irwin seemed to know what was on Yarrick's mind.
"Rolf, say it," he said weakly. "Say it, you will feel better, I promise."
Yarrick let go of Irwin's hand, leant towards the old man and hugged him as tightly as he dared. Irwin felt how the commissar general was shaking with tears now.
"Hendrik," Yarrick got out between the gulps of air he forced into his shaking lungs, "Hendrik, you've been like a father to me. The father I never truly had. I thank the God-Emperor for having the pleasure to have met you."
There was a brief pause as Yarrick gathered his breath. Irwin stroked him gently on his wiry back.
"The rest, Rolf."
"I love you, Hendrik," Yarrick snivelled forth. After having said that, it felt like a weight had gone from his heart. He unclasped Irwin from his grip and stood up. Irwin was smiling at him. Softly and weakly, though.
"I've been waiting for that, Rolf, know that. How I've been waiting. I've loved you like a son. The son I never had. Makes us even, eh?"
Yarrick was to reply, when he saw how Irwin slowly closed his eyes, a faint smile on his lips. A content smile.
A few seconds later, and the thin chest under the blankets stopped heaving.
Yarrick waited a few minutes and then leant forward and touched Irwin's wrinkled cheek with one hand.
"Of all the heroes I've known, Hendrik," Yarrick whispered, "you were the greatest. Your commitments weren't on the battlefield, because you were no warrior. You put your efforts where they mattered."
With that, Yarrick walked out of the bedroom. When he came out, he whispered to the doctor present what had happened. Then he turned to Skuli, his wife Fiona and his two children. Skuli had entertained them with trick and acrobatics.
They all noticed the grim set on Yarrick's face. No words were needed. Fiona got up and walked over to her husband. The two hugged each other tightly.
Skuli felt the tears roll down his cheeks as he held the two young girls to him. Nothing was ever going to the same again.
Not for Yarrick and certainly not for Skuli.
Two weeks later, Hendrik Irwin, Imperial Commissar and Loyal Servant in His Imperial Highness Holy Guard, was buried in the soil of the land where he was born: Kilarney Hive on the southern continent of Ichar.
Commissar General Rolf Yarrick attended, in full dress uniform, together with his wife. They hadn't been many, but all men and women had one thing in common: they were all in some way linked to the deceased and to the Imperial Commissariat. As a matter of fact there was no preacher to read out the proceedings from the Ecclesiarchal Creed. Instead, a commissar had been called in.
During the entire funeral service, Yarrick tried discreetly to locate Skuli in the crowd. He knew that Skuli had become of average human height.
The mutant had been nowhere to be seen.
And Rolf Yarrick would never hear from him again.
At the end of the service, when the coffin had been lowered into the ground and people were starting to walk away from the cementary, Yarrick darkly reflected that he'd soon enough would lose someone perhaps even nearer.
He knew he would outlive his wife. But it didn't make things better at all.
Things were going to very grim, he concluded. Very grim indeed, before they got better.
Commissar General Rolf Yarrick had no idea that this was a grave understatement on his behalf.