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How many years? To look at the lines on her face you’d think it had been at least a decade, but that’s not what the chronometer said. She stuck to numbers she could trust. Six fronts, and at least thirteen ships to carry them to and from said fronts. Alliss was pretty sure that she hadn’t campaigned in this ship, though one Imperial Navy troop-carrier was much the same as the next, and it wasn’t impossible that she’d been a guest on His Inviolate Justice before. There was only one transport she’d never sail in again, as no Imperial ships survived the void war above Artaloc IV. Her shoulders still ached at the memory of that juddering descent in the guts of the burning Devourer drop-ship. She massaged the aches and thought back to less jarring journeys.

Alliss Corde was a sergeant even at the founding, purely because of a slightly higher than average aptitude score and a lucky call when the NCO lots were drawn. People made jokes that it was because she and the regiment shared a birthday so she got preferential treatment, but she ignored that. Still, Alliss made sure that she looked as much like an officer as she could at their sending off, every detail on her uniform gleamed from polishing and she practically vibrated with pride as she stood alongside the other 2,999 troopers of her regiment. The governor was speaking, but she could hardly focus on what he was saying, she was that excited to begin. To serve Him on Terra in whichever wars He had chosen her for. Hers was one of the loudest voices chanting hymns as they marched onto the vast ships that would ferry them to glory.

The lieutenant was dead, gone to glory. His face was a mask of weeping flesh studded with at least ten of the gleaming crystal shards that had flown from the xenos weapons. More of the almost circular missiles had punched through the back of his skull and were now embedded in the factory wall. Corde stopped for a second and glanced at one. When still the objects looked more like some sort of festive decoration than ammunition, but the force with which they’d whipped through the lieutenant’s body, along with another four troopers’, had turned armour and flesh to pulp.  There wasn’t time to look for long, by rank she was now leading the push for the generator. It was her first taste of command, not a month after the founding, and as she picked up the lieutenant’s chainsword she cried for vengeance in the Emperor’s name. Only a tiny part of her felt sick as she thumbed the viscera which had dripped onto the weapon’s activator.

On Artaloc II the suns had baked them alive in their trenches. Stuck between renegade PDF holding the Governor’s palace and a clan of wild Orks in the wasteland they held, barely. The orders they received on that dried out world demanded that of the Emperor’s servants, but they couldn’t do much else until help came. She remembered the day it happened, a box-like gunship like nothing she’d ever seen, adorned with the aquila she loved, swept over the trench. The Astartes inside ended what her regiment had been fighting for nearly a year in a single day. In truth, it was hardly her regiment anymore, though it was hard to tell when that had happened. After the ambush on Baramis they’d had to absorb another regiment’s remnants to reach full-strength, keeping their old name simply because they were the majority. That had happened again, at least once, and while they still held the name, she wasn’t sure the majority was still there. Not that she could complain, her vox operator might speak with an unfamiliar accent but he did the job much better than Hollis had, who’d grown up in the same sector of the hive as her back home. Hollis stood at the Emperor’s side now, she knew.

She lost her hand at Baramis, along with the lieutenant’s chainsword. The augmetic replacement took some getting used to, but it was the blade she missed most. Baramis had been hard, the cold and the mud and the plants that would try to eat you were bad enough, and that was before they’d even made it to the front. Calling it a front was optimism, it had very quickly become an island once the supply lines were cut and the recovery force that went after the culprits ambushed. She still remembered that moment of awful stillness before the shadows had come alive, xeno camouflage fading to reveal a horribly oily and distended face, staring milky eyes set beneath a crown of constantly twitching quills. If she’d had time to scream, she would have then, Emperor forgive her, but the enemy hunter’s jaws closed down on her forearm before the shock of its appearance could sink in. Hollis had carried her out of that mess, after she’d blacked out from the pain, though he’d then spent three months on penance duties. The vox-caster he’d left on the forest floor held more value than a one-handed sergeant after all.

Alliss Corde is a veteran now, one of the few in the regiment on whom the Emperor’s light has shone long enough for her to claim experience in the field. Her new lieutenant will often look to her if the path ahead is murky. Alliss doesn’t mind that; she knows it’s what a good sergeant is for, and she only slightly begrudges him his chainsword. She sits at her bunk now, amidst the winding corridors that fill His inviolate Justice’s lower decks. As she watches the chronometer tick over another year, she wishes herself a happy birthday under her breath. The vox operator with the funny accent passes by and shouts a congratulations, calling her ‘the old woman of the squad’. She smiles at that and settles down to sleep, twenty years old.

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