One of the subalterns had been lingering by the door of the Company HQ, and when the carrier jerked to a muddy halt outside he hissed his warning inside. It was met with a hum of murmuring activity as the others hurried to the door. Captain Norbanus stood closest, heading the little party of staff officers. It was unusual for the executive officer to be greeting the arrival of a new company commander, but since the battle had taken the lives of all the field officers, there was no alternative.
Galbrio had been boiled alive with a plasma bolt to his gut. The promising young boy had died in agony, the medic pinned down by bolter fire in a crater three feet away.
Nero, the old principal, a legend in his own lifetime - cut in half by the Astartes’ champion. He had finally got the Honorifica Imperialis he deserved.
Norbanus had only met Rhyn, the Delhian, once. He hadn’t been impressed - and rightly so. After Nero died, he took command of the company for no more than ten seconds. The first thing he did when Nero was killed was try and run. Straight into the waiting bolt pistol of the company commissar.
Norbanus was shaken from his thoughts by the sound of the new company commander approaching the closed door of the HQ. He heard measured footsteps grind across the gravel towards them. Then a pause, just outside. A voice drifted laconically to their ears.
“What’s that, Chief Sergeant?”
“A lho-stick, sir.” The Armsman replied honestly. The Pioneer Company never had taken regulations too seriously. Nero himself had been the most prolific smoker of the prohibited narcotic.
“The duty squad is fined twenty-one days’ campaign pay. The duty sergeant is confined to quarters for seven days.”
“Sir,” the Armsman began - inside, Norbanus and the other officers were exchanging worried glances now - “In the past the company principal has tolerated these ... excesses in the interest of morale - ”
“The best way to maintain morale, Chief Sergeant, is with rigid discipline.” The new commander shouted. “Corporal! The Chief-Sergeant is relieved of his duties, and confined to quarters for fourteen days. What’s your name? Darius? Well, you’re my new Armsman now. You! Hand those stripes over to Chief-Sergant Darius.”
Norbanus was stunned. The Armsman had fought on Cadia. He’d more experience than all the company officers combined. Norbanus had to step in. He took a pace towards the door - when it was suddenly thrown open. The new commander stood there for a second, while the effect of his immaculate full-dress uniform permeated into the company HQ. Norbanus was not to be deterred. He noted with satisfaction the newcomer’s lieutenant’s shoulder straps.
“Look here, Lieutenant, I don’t know what - ”
“Enough, Captain. I know what you’re going to say. Here it is.” He held out the brevet. If a Palladian XO happened to outrank his commander, it was traditional to give the latter seniortiy antedating the former by a day, to allow him to command the company. But having it shoved into his face like this was particularly humiliating for Norbanus.
“And I fancy you haven’t shaved this morning, have you? Armsman!” The bewhildered corporal snapped to attention. “The captain is to be censured in the Company Log. Now, let’s see what else you’ve got to show me!” He swept off down the line of now-terrified subalterns.
Captain Nero, smoker of lho-sticks, drinker of amasec, player of cards, holder of the Honorifica Imperialis - was dead.
First Lieutenant (brevet Captain) Antonius Severus was now firmly in charge of the Seventh Company.
Wow! A change of pace at company headquarters, I think ... for those of you who missed it all this is the drama following the death of Captain Nero in my last battle. Hopefully Severus will get a chance to prove himself in battle before long!
In other news, von Körtig's "Backscratchers" are almost painted, thanks to all the commenters for your suggestions and kind words. I'll try and post the results on Friday if I can. Until then, all the best and happy gaming!