A small tropical island in the South China Sea. Early evening.
The Inquisitor Essington Streck strides up the road to the villa.
He had landed his ship in a clearing in the jungle nearby.
His robes rustled as he strode the dusty road, his senses were ready for action.
The villa seemed devoid of life, no activity could be seen, nor people.Except one.
In the main plaza stood a man in a black suit bearing a sword.
The smoke from his cigarette drifted lazily in the warm breeze. Streck closed the distance between the two of them.
He nodded in greeting. "Thousand Sons."
The man in black took a drag off his cigarette and tossed it away. "Streck."
"You should not have come here, Thousand Sons. My business is with the revenant only."
"I have my own reasons for being here, Streck."
Streck unsheathed his power blade.
"Step aside, Thousand Sons. The Inquisition will have the head of your patron. His very presence taints this world."
"I don’t disagree with you on that, Streck." he said unsheathing the Thread-Killer blade. It hummed with joy, ready to strike.
"Then you will step aside?""No."
The two faced off like gunfighters in the Old West.
"Where is The Baker, Streck?"
Streck frowned. "The Baker? He is quiescent at the moment."
"No, he is not." replied the man in black. "He was reactivated days ago by Imperial agents."
"I don’t know what you are playing at, but I'm quite sure he is inactive."
"You're wrong. He is here somewhere, I can feel it."
Fred strolled leisurely out on the balcony overlooking the plaza.
"Ahhh, Inquisitor Streck! How nice to see you! I see you're making acquaintance with my friend, Thousand Sons."
The two continued to stare each other down, not taking their eyes of each other.
"We've met before." Streck said shortly.
"Well, the gangs all here I see! Just in time, I have a few old friends that want to join the party!"
Fred clapped his hands twice and a legion of zombies shambled their way into the courtyard, surrounding Streck and Thousand Sons.
"What is this, Fred?" asked the man in black, coldly.
"Old friends of yours, Thousand Sons. Remember my minions you dispatched before? When you came to kill me? They are here to say hello again!" Fred laughed.
"A setup." said Thousand Sons flatly.
"Oh my yes! Did you really think I could pass up an opportunity to be rid of two foes at once? My dear Mr. Sons, I believe you are slipping in your old age!"
Fred claps his hands.
"Minions! Deal with them; I'll be down shortly to watch the festivities!"
The zombies began shambling forward.
The two adversaries, once intent on dueling to the death, now spun about and stood back to back.
Streck put up his power sword and produced a large silver mace from his cloak. It crackled with unknown power. "This is a holy weapon. Its merest touch will bring death to the deathless."The man in black nodded. "This is Thread-Killer blade. It too will extinguish these mockeries of life."
"Together then?" asked Streck.
"Together." nodded the man in black. "We can always kill each other later."
Streck grinned wickedly. "Indeed."
The zombies charged and the battle began in earnest.
"In the Emperors name!" bellowed Streck. When his mace touched a zombie it burst into silver flame, consuming it wholly.
"Dang! I need a catchy battle cry too someday!" yelled the man in black.
Thread-Killer blade howled with glee, dispatching zombie after zombie.
"There is too many of them!" cried Thousand Sons.
"Courage, warrior! We shall prevail!" boomed Streck.
Fred strolled out across the plaza with a beautiful woman in tow.
"Come along, Sojourner! Time we were leaving!"
Sojourner caught sight of the man in the black suit.
She cried out "Thousand Sons!"
Over the clamorous din of the battle he heard her voice. "Sojourner!"
Streck saw Fred. "The revenant!" he cried. "He is the key to all this!" he yelled. "Destroy him and this will all end!"Thousand Sons nodded grimly and began wading his way through the zombies like a scythe through wheat toward Fred.
The blazing fury gripped him and he saw nothing but his prey.
"Fred!" he growled.
He got within a meter of Fred before being disarmed by a rush of zombies.
Thread Killer blade clattered to the ground, growling impotent anger.
"Bring him to me, my minions!"
The zombies hurled the man in black to the ground before Fred who blurred into his female form.
"So! The mighty Thousand Sons!" she crowed. "What a pity your story ends here, my old friend."
The man in black stood up and dusted himself off, glaring intently at Fred.
"What will you do now, man in black?" she crooned. "Where is your deadly blade, O Thousand Sons?"
She laughed with great mirth.
She leaned close in and patted his cheek. "Goodbye, Mr. Sons."
Across the courtyard Streck called out in a great voice. "Thousand Sons! Catch!"
With a mighty arm he threw his mace in the air, toward the trio.
It spun slowly through the air in a long arc...and sailed right past Thousand Sons, landing with a great clatter.
The zombies flooded over Streck like the tide, obscuring him from sight.
The man in black stared agape at the mace lying harmlessly on the ground, just out of reach.
Fred laughed outrageously.
"Oh this is just too much! Too have come so far and fail at the last. Ha ha!"
She wiped a tear of merriment from her eye. "Oh, I haven’t laughed this hard in ages."
"Goodbye again, Mr. Sons! I think this will be our final farewell."
"Yes it will." said Sojourner behind him, holding the mace.
Unnoticed and forgotten in the confusion she had picked up the holy weapon!
Fred reverted to his male form, the man in the cream colored suit.
He held his hands up in panic.
"Now, Sojourner, don’t be hasty..."
Sojourner grinned wickedly. "This is for keeping me on this island against my will!"
WHACK! She struck Fred in the arm with the mace, its power crackling.
The zombies faltered for a moment.
"OWWWW! Hey!!" Fred whined.
"This is for double crossing Thousand Sons!"
WHACK! She struck Fred a second time, disrupting his magic protection.
The zombies began to panic, shambling aimlessly.
She bore down on Fred, a look of determination in her eye.
"Baby! Baby, we can work this out, I know!" cowered Fred.
"And this! This is because I always get the last word! HA!"
WHACK! She struck Fred a third and final time.
He howled like a banshee and all his magics were broken!
The zombies began to crumble, falling into dust. Fred began to crumble too."All my plans are ruined! Ruined! Who ever thought a woman like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness? What a world..! What a woooorld....."
He collapsed in a pile of ashes.
Streck began dusting himself off and walked over to the two. "Excellent work, Madame. May I have my mace back now?" he asked smiling.
"Oh! Oh, of course." said Sojourner, handing the mace over.
Streck returned it to the folds of his cloak.
"Now, Thousand Sons." he said. "Or should I say 'What now?"
Thousand Sons took a cigarette from his case.
He lit it slowly and took a long drag.
"Well. I guess that depends." he exhaled.
Streck nodded. "Yes. The revenant Fred was my primary target, but you, you are another matter."
Thousand Sons began moving to his Blade, but was brought up short by Streck's blaster.
He shrugged and took another drag of his cigarette.
"You see, I know about you. I've read your file. You are a traitor to the Imperium!You abandoned your squad and ran to this planet!"
Sojourner looked on bemused by this conversation. She hoped answers would be forthcoming.
"I didn’t abandon anything." replied Thousand Sons quietly. "I was asked to leave Imperial service."
"By whom?" asked Streck skeptically. "Who would have the authority to do such a thing, if it were possible?"
"I could tell you, but you wouldn’t believe me."
Streck glares, waiting.
Thousand Sons sighs. "The Emperor."
"I don’t believe you."
"There!" grinned Thousand Sons. "What did I tell you?"
"Now is not the time for your usual flip comments!" Streck boomed. "Why?"
"Earth was a non-aligned world." explained Thousand Sons. "I was sent here long ago to scout it out, in secret. I made my report directly to the Emperor. He was so shocked by what I'd found he immediately signed the Non Interference Treaty and made this system off limits to Imperial interference. All record of my being here was expunged. It was made to look as if I'd deserted the Legion and perished in the Fringe Worlds. Of course, rumors of my existence kept popping up here and there. Being a cross temporal entity has its advantages...and disadvantages."
Streck shook his head. "This is all nonsense. How could even the Emperor cover this up? The Inquisition would already know this..."
"The Inquisition is not all-knowing!" countered the man in black. "There are secrets in this universe that even your Order is not privy to."
Streck frowned. "I have served the Inquisition my entire life. I am privy to secrets that would drive you into howling madness. I have seen horrors that would make men run screaming into the night. What did you find here that was so alarming to the Empire?"
"I could tell you...but then it wouldn’t be a secret anymore would it?" replied the man in black, smiling. "It wouldn’t do you any good anyway, because you'd never understand. The very fact that you know this much makes you a marked man, Streck."
Streck straightened his posture and pondered for a moment. "I will report that the revenant threat has been neutralized. I will also report that Thousand Sons is no threat to the Imperium. It will bear the seal of the Inquisition. None would dare question it. But you must promise me something in return: You must never return to Imperial Space. It would be too dangerous...for both of us."
The man in black nodded. "All right. I promise. I haven't been back in years anyway."
The two clasped hands roughly.
"You fought well, Inquisitor Streck. It was an honor to fight by your side!"
"And yours as well, Thousand Sons. It seems you've learned a thing or two since last we met!"
"When was that? The Fomalhaut Campaign or Orion?"
"Orion, I think."
"That was you? I thought so! But why did the...."
"Would someone please explain what the hell is going on here?!"
The two were startled by the outburst.
"Oh! Sojourner! Sorry, this is Inquisitor Streck..."
Streck makes a formal bow.
"I gathered that." she replied witheringly. "So when were you going to tell me you were from outer space?!"
Just then a shot rang out in the air of the courtyard.
A thin man in a skintight black jumpsuit strode into view.
"Ah, very touching non? Like two old friends now, eh?"
"Damn! I forgot about The Baker!" said Thousand Sons, edging toward his sword again.
The thin man shot the pavement in front of Thousand Sons, bringing him up short.
"Ah ah! None of that. You'll have to do without your blade, m’sieur."
Thousand Sons lights a cigarette, staring down his opponent.
Thread Killer blade grumbled on the ground.
Rene the Baker stood smiling in front of the man in black, his gun leveled at him.
The man in black took a long drag and smiled. "I don’t need my blade for everything, Baker." he said and flicked his lit cigarette viciously at the Baker's face.
Rene instinctively flinched and the man in black whipped his left hand out, disarming the assassin.
The two began a vicious hand-to-hand brawl, using all their martial arts prowess.
In the end it was experience that won the day. Experience that the man in black had before Rene was even born. He quickly subdued his would-be assassin.
Rene knelt panting on the ground. "You...you seem to be quite skilled, M’sieur Mils Fille. End this."
Thousand Sons smoothed out his suit jacket.
"No. I may be many things, but I'm not a murderer."
"End it! I've waited for this moment!" cried Rene. "I've done terrible things as an assassin, m’sieur, in the name of the Empire! I don’t want to live with them!"
"I can help you with that, my friend." said Streck.
Streck produced a small device from his belt pouch. A Strobe but more advanced than Thousand Sons had seen before.
"Standard Inquisition issue. With this I can erase your prior assassin programming, permanently, and remove all memory of this event."
The Strobe began to flash before Rene's eyes.
Rene wept. "Thank you, m’sieur! Bless you!" he said as he fell asleep.
"Shhh." Streck said gently. "Dream, my friend. Dream of baguettes and cakes and pastries. Dream...and tomorrow your dream will be true once again."
He picked up Rene in his arms.
"I'll take him back home. He won’t remember a thing tomorrow."
"So that’s what they mean when they say 'The Inquisition leaves no witnesses!"
Streck gave an enigmatic grin. "Sometimes, Mr. Sons. Sometimes."
The man in black arched his eyebrow at this and said nothing.
"And now I must take my leave of you. Goodbye Thousand Sons. Goodbye Sojourner. Be well!"
Streck walked down the road to his ship, carrying the unconscious former assassin over his shoulder.
Thousand Sons let out a sigh of relief.
"Well! I'm glad that’s over with...OWWWW!"
Sojourner smacked Thousand Sons in the arm!
"What was that for?!" he asked with exasperation.
"Outer space?!" she glared at him.
"Um...heh...yeah. It’s a long story."
"I have time." she said levelly.
"Yeah. I guess we both do now. We also have this whole island, the mansion and its servants all to ourselves! I could use a vacation."
"Don’t change the subject."
He gave a sheepish look. "My story is pretty long. It might take...years...to tell it all."
"Well you need to start somewhere, don’t you?" she winked. "How about 'how old you are', Mr. Sons?"
"There are times, my dear Sojourner, that I feel like the oldest man in the universe."
"Now? Today I feel...young again." he smiled.
Sojourner looked wistfully at the pile of ash on the ground. "Y'know, it’s funny. I kind of miss Fred now."
Thousand Sons puts an arm around her shoulders.
"I know. Me too. But I have the feeling he wont be gone forever." he says enigmatically.
He looks up at the stars sadly.
"Penny for your thoughts, TS?" Sojourner asks.
"There's something I need to do. Something I should have done a long time ago..."
-------------------Epilogue the first.
A small boulangerie somewhere in France, the next day.
Rene has finished the morning baking and opens his shop for business.
Although he had the strangest dreams last night, he feels incredibly rested.
The bell on the front door rings merrily and the first customer of the day enters.
A large heavy set man with a grey beard.
"Bon jour, mon ami! What can I do for you today?" asked Rene cheerfully.
"Two loaves of your rustic bread. And a sticky bun."
"Certainly! Will that be all?"
"Yes, wrap it well. I have a long journey ahead of me."
As the man was paying, Rene got a strange feeling. "Have we met before, m’sieur? I have the oddest feeling of..."
"Deja vu? Oh, I'm certain it’s nothing. We've never met before."
"Hmmm. So you say you have a long journey?” asked Rene, making small talk while wrapping the baked goods. “What are you doing when you get there?"
The large mans eyes misted over for a moment. "Painting."
"Oh, m’sieur, how wonderful!" Rene clapped. "What type of painting? Portraits? Still life?"
The large man shrugged. "Landscapes mostly."
"What are you painting today, m’sieur?" asked Rene as he rung up the sale.
The large man paid and gathered his packages.
He smiled broadly.
"Cherry blossoms." he replied and walked out of the store.
Rene puzzled for a moment.
"How odd. Where can one find cherry blossoms this time of year?" he wondered.
--------------------------Epilogue the second.
Deneb IV, somewhere within Imperial Space, several weeks later.
A lonely wind whispers through the trees.
The first moon is near its apex, the second moon is just rising.
This is the cemetery world of The Legion, the armored defenders of the Empire.
The headstones stand as tall and proud as the warriors did in life.
Tonight a man is breaking a promise to a new found friend for reasons of his own.
A man dressed in black suit makes his way to the monument in the middle of the grounds.
He is carrying a large bundle of tropical flowers from his adopted planet.
Before him stands a memorial to the fallen; a larger than life statue of a Legionnaire resplendent in his armor, his hand reaching to the sky.
The man in black places the flowers at the feet of the statue and salutes.
He sits down at the base, leaning back against the marble, savoring its coolness.
The wind picks up slightly.
He looks out at the ranks of headstones and lights a cigarette.
"Hello, boys." he says softly. "It’s been a long time."