Daria and Jane sat in silence
at the old table in the Lane kitchen, enjoying some fresh coffee that Jane had
brewed after the small skirmish that had taken place upstairs.
"See something you like?"
Jane snapped out of it. "Oh, sorry, Daria... I just... how did you...?"
Daria looked puzzled for a moment, but soon figured out what her friend was talking about by the expression on her face. "Oh, that?" she said, touching the scar, "Bad luck. APC exploded under me, and I got caught by a piece of the turret. I've had worse."
"Worse? Daria, that looks almost as bad as one of my paintings. What could be worse?"
Daria shot Jane a look that said "well, you asked for it," and pushed her chair back from the table. She put her right leg up on another chair and, with a small grunt, pulled her boot off, and pulled her pants leg up. Jane gasped. About halfway down the shin, Daria's pale skin ended and two gunmetal grey tubes continued where the fibula and tibia ought to have been. These were attached via a mechanical joint to a segmented foot, about the same size as Daria's natural one would have been. There were wires of various colors running up and down it. Daria flexed her "toes," now made of metal, and the slight whirr of servomotors could be heard. Jane's jaw dropped and she just stared. Daria smiled her curious little half-smile.
"Daria, that's awesome!- well, not that you lost your foot, but- wow, is that even possible? What happened?"
"I'm not entirely sure. It was either that bug that collapsed on me, or one of those rippers might have gnawed it off... that night's a little blurry. Woke up in the apothecarium three days later." Jane looked puzzled.
"Bug? Ripper? Apothecariwhat? God, Daria, where were you?"
"One at a time, Lane. First, I don't really expect you to believe what I'm going to say. I had a lot of free time to think it over, and I figured that if I ever got back I wouldn't tell anyone, since that would be the fast route to the local loony bin. That was before I lost the foot. Now... oh, what the hell. Jane, the night I left my parents’ house, I was transported 38,000 years into the future to another planet, joined the commissar corps to avoid being drafted by the guard, got promoted in battle and traveled around the galaxy fighting aliens and traitors." Jane sat still in a shocked silence. Daria waited several seconds, then put both of her feet back on the ground and made to get up.
"I'll just go call the men with the white suits, then-"
"No, Daria," said Jane, cutting Daria off, "I, I, well, I wouldn't normally believe that, but your leg, and the flash, and your face..." She trailed off. "Go on. This is too crazy to have been made up anyway. What's a commissar?"
"Think of a Stalin-era political officer, but much more involved. We advise officers, keep discipline, and take over if the officer is killed or decides he'd rather run and increase his chances of survival."
"Oh. Um... what if an officer decides not to listen to you?"
Daria hesitated, as if ashamed or afraid of Jane's reaction. "In that case, I would be authorized to use, um, force." Jane opened her mouth as if to ask for explanation, but the tone in Daria's voice made it clear to her exactly how much force she was authorized to use. Jane's mind raced to find another question, not wanting another awkward silence.
"Uh... which army did you say this was again?"
"The Imperial Guard. The 142nd Cadian regiment, to be specific."
"Imperial? What empire?"
"Right, you don't know.
Well, to make a very long story short, there was this superhuman guy who took
over- well, I guess, will take over- all of mankind, which had been scattered
between worlds and plunged into a dark age, in about the 29th Millennium, and
united it under one banner. That's the Emperor of
"A millennium? What, was he Lazarus Long or something?"
"I said he was superhuman. Almost immortal. Anyway, in the 31st millennium, about half of his genetically engineered space marines-"
Jane interrupted Daria again. "Do they always have genetically engineered soldiers? I thought that was just a cheesy B-movie plot device."
"They're real enough. Vicious bastards, too, and dammed hard to kill. Glad they're on my side. Or, at least, I’ve never met any that weren’t. Thank the Emperor…” Daria noticed Jane’s puzzled expression and paused.
“Oh, right. Got used to different expressions- referring any deity but the Emperor was heresy and punishable by death. Forced myself to change vocabulary. Anyway, about half of them decided that they'd rather serve themselves than ‘him on Terra’ and tried to take over the galaxy for themselves. Came close, too. The Emperor was seriously wounded fighting off one of his Generals. That whole incident touched off a state of constant war that hasn't ended since. Or will not have ended. Damn future tense."
"Where's your Hitchhiker's Guide when you need it?"
"I think I left it in the Heart of Gold. Let me know if you see it."
"I'll get Marvin on that."
"Right, anyway, there's a lot more involved, but that's the gist of it. The Imperium, my employers, worship the now near-dead Emperor, who resides on the golden throne, which I think probably covers most of the eastern seaboard.”
“Funny. I never took you for the God fearing type.”
“Well, you know how
“That makes sense. Go on.”
“Right, so there are also a lot of aliens, but being humans, we're of course deeply xenophobic. A lot of it is justified- there are things like the bugs- tyranids, a gigantic hive mind of insect creatures who devour worlds, and the orks, who just like to kill things, that the whole galaxy would be better off without. But I can't help feeling bad for some of the others, like the Tau or Eldar. Well, insofar as I feel bad for anybody."
"Looks like I was wrong. I thought two years of brutal warfare would put some humanity in anybody." Jane meant it as a joke, but she could immediately tell she had struck a chord.
"Daria- I didn't mean that."
Daria responded quickly.
"I know... just... so much death." She stared off into space for a
moment, and then changed the subject. "So, yeah, I lost the foot during a tyranid invasion. I was trying to hold a landing base we
were using to evacuate the planet, and we were almost overrun. I thought we had
been, but then I woke up and one leg was shorter than the other. Lost my
glasses down there too- that's when I got these implants." She pointed at
the tiny knobs coming out of her temple. "So... what have you been doing the
last six years?
"Six? Daria, you were only gone for two years." She smiled. "Maybe you are crazy."
"Figures. Damn time travel. Even in the future nothing works."
"Yeah, about that- how did you get from here to there?"
"Hey Jane, I'm a soldier, not a theoretical physicist. Teleporter accident?"
"Sure. Though… come to think of it, how did you wind up in a combat branch? Don’t they have intelligence services in the 40th Century?"
“Millennium. I had though of that, but I took one look at the people they had in all of the support branches, and decided against it. All of them are covered with implants and have various and sundry objects sticking out of them. You get things like guys with microphones sticking out of their mouths, and exposed skulls with antennas coming out. Didn’t want to be turned into a machine. That, and the quality of their medical science varies. They have the technology to replace lost limbs, and put implants in eyes, but the surgery can sometimes border on ritual. That whole ‘emerging from a dark age’ thing. I’m happy I was unconscious when they put in these implants and the leg.”
Just at that moment,
"Well, Daria's back, and I thought she'd like this more than Chinese. Well, and you also said to get something easy. This was already cooked."
"Wow, so you do have a brain. Been hanging with the scarecrow lately?"
He chuckled and then coughed. "Funny, Janey."
They ate with gusto- Jane
because she was happy again, Daria because this tasted so much better than the
trench rations she'd lived on for what seemed like an eternity, and