Son of the Eagle.
Garrick is freezing, his breath frosting in the tiny compartment. Why did I agree to this he thinks frowning, oh yeah it was his bright idea, nice one dumbass? Infiltration being his specialisation or just something he is generally good at usually, but it was a crazy idea, which might be a more appropriate term for his little adventure at this precise moment. Is he losing consciousness again? He stumbles the few centimetres into the cold metal wall in front of him with a dull thud, wincing at the noise, hoping that no one would notice, blinking tired eyes he leans back and raises the suits faceplate. Exhausted standing now for the best part of ten hours straight, his mind wandering he remembers the pouch taped to the wall beside him, his breath frosting the flat metal in front of his face. Dipping his hand into the synthetic bag, the movement awkward in the confined space, there is a large tube of glucose gel, his mind faintly recalling liquid would freeze in here; his parched tongue feels massive in his dry mouth. Relishing the refreshing exotic fruit flavour as he squeezes the tube, his mind clearing slowly as the sweet nourishment revitalises him, renewed energy flowing into tired limbs. Even with the armour supporting his body, his muscles are stiff, aching with the lack of movement. Soon he thinks, just a little longer and it will be over, hoping for an escape from his harsh fate, a traitor dreaming of a better life.
He had grown up on old Earth, a place called Roma, in a district notorious for poverty and crime. Tor Bella Monaca, it sounds nice! But it is the dark underworld of an Ancient crumbling city awash with wealthy tourists and a history that went back over four millennia. The naive visitors are easy pickings for the thieves pimps and drug peddlers that ply their trade after dark… mostly. Though many are bold enough to rob you in broad daylight if you wander from the main thoroughfares.
Guiseppe Arcimboldo was orphaned at twelve due to a fatal fire in their dilapidated tenement block, his mother knocked unconscious by his poor excuse for a father, who had sat too inebriated to climb out of his chair to escape the blaze from the kitchen, his young brother and sister screaming from the single cot in his small box room had never stood a chance. Truanting from school as usual with the other urchins he hung around with, trapesing home to find the remnants of his apartment surrounded by flashing lights and emergency services, the distressing scene of residents and bystanders wailing and calling out in anger at the death trap everyone knew these buildings represented within the poorest district of the old metropolitan city.
The boy was numb, no tears just a sudden realisation that he was on his own. He would miss his mother, he looked at the picture of her every day as he left for school, it had been taken just after his parents had married, his father arm around the pretty dark haired girl shyly looking at the camera, and yes, they still had them, well a modern version of photographers for the tourists who had their jewellery, and com devices lifted by the swarm of pickpockets roaming every street and café. The city was an enigma like that, everyone out for a cut of the action.
His Father a big man older than his mother by ten years and already running to fat, he owned a café… well more of a slop house to be fare, paying off the local gang to stay in business. Drinking and gambling the profit away, violent after he was born as the pressure mounted to feed another mouth and resenting his wife for doting on the child instead of stroking his big fat ego. A charmer to everyone except for him and his mother. He still sees Paola four and Livia two in the faces of his own children, they have the classical Roman look as he does, note not Italian, no he was Roman and despite his upbringing he was proud of his city. A pride that ran to arrogance in the long lost past.
That had been his only interest. The History of one of the Greatest Empires of Ancient history, started by a collection of bandits sat amongst the seven hills of Roma. Who by stealth and subterfuge, then abduction and conquest had enslaved millions to shine as the bastion of civilisation for hundreds of years, he can still even today see comparisons in the Empire, the third of its name and the greatest, ruled by Emperors and Empresses, and a Senate for governing the Great Noble Families that bind the far flung corners of humanity with the sinews of commerce? Backed by the Imperium’s overstretched armed forces guarding the borders from excursions from hostile human hybrids like the Solomani and others posing as much as a threat as the alien races from the edges of nearby Galaxies and enclaves within their own, as humanity colonised systems beyond the influence and control of the Imperium. Barely explored by unmanned probes, the Milky Way with its 200 billion stars had been a vast uncharted expanse of solar systems to explore and exploit.
So, at twelve, with nothing but the clothes he was stood in and an old brown school bag containing a very basic tablet with his schoolwork as its contents, a half eaten sandwich, an apple he had stolen from an open market as a dare, and a plastic bottle which was empty of juice. The skinny tanned dark eyed boy with a big nose, thanks dad! chestnut brown intelligent eyes and thirst for knowledge which must be from his mother along with his thick dark hair.
The young man has a decision to make that will set him on a path through life to become a citizen or a criminal, though they are not mutually exclusive, crime obviously the easy option. But does he want something more, he had spent the day exploring the hidden undercity climbing through the ruins wondering at the men and women who must have walked those streets, tracing his fingers along the faint flaking murals, trying to imagine what they were thinking, and what were their dreams!
He has dreams… of being a Legionary with a sword and shield, tramping through the edge of an empire fighting barbarians like the Fierce Britons, with their wild charging chariots, painting themselves with swirling blue Woad patterns, hair limed white and spikey, a terrifying sight emerging from thick morning mists, screaming and blaring their war horns, the fabled Carnyx. The tall instruments shaped like mythical beasts a sound to freeze the blood of the stoutest foe, fighting in the all together! Just who does that...They must have been wild hard men, ‘no puns please I’m only twelve’ ha-ha, that’s me laughing at my own joke by the way, after reading how cold it was in those far flung days. In the deepest winters sentries could be found frozen to death still at their posts looking out into the harsh bitter frontier.
The weather milder now thanks to a limited global warming and efforts at controlling the climate. Frowning remembering once sneaking into a museum and seeing a mannequin dressed in bright Lorica Segmantata Armour. Standing next to it realising the shield was almost as big as he was. And he was almost as tall as the soldier, amazed they were so short, but broad also due to the limits of natural procreation without gene modification to enhance their stature.
They built a wall of stone to keep the wildling hordes out and control trade always their primary concern, wealth, the creation and benefits it bestowed on the few.
Is it not the same even today? Has nothing really changed in all that time. There is still poverty, war, slavery and any number of atrocities committed on the innocent. While the wealthy bathe in their riches, oblivious to the mundane worlds populated by the masses of human garbage, an inconvenience, at best.
He watches the setting sun through the smoke and heat haze, deferring the decision until tomorrow, who knows what the new sun will bring! It will not bring his mother back, but the sunrise is like her bright gentle smile, a gift that illuminates his world, now destined to always remain just a sad memory. Saturday will be the start of his new life; he just needs a place to sleep for the tonight… looks like the school it is! The Gymnasium has mats soft and thick, water and toilets, and vending machines! Maybe he will be good mostly. Hey, you have to survive, right!
No family, except his grandma, the steely eyed old woman scared the life out of him, he hated the way she pinched his cheek like she wanted to see how far it would stretch cackling at his pain. Worst of all the old cow was always horrible to his mother and that hurt deeply.
His mum’s parents had disowned their daughter when she married beneath her, why she had done it she had never said, and he wondered at her poor choice. He would obviously not be here otherwise but maybe that would have been a good thing. His hated fathers mother was his only option now until he was old enough to join the military and earn his way out of this poverty.
One last night before he must ask the old witch for a place to stay until he can escape forever. Four years until he can be a cadet, two more before he can enlist, you needed to be educated and have an address unfortunately. Maybe the old bag will expire and let him have some respite from her unrelenting blind indulgence of the wife beater and all round worthless piece of flesh that was probably just a greasy smear and no loss to him or society, that was the man that sired him.
He sometimes fantasises that his mother had got knocked up before she met his father, or with someone whilst she was, that would explain the beatings of her and him when he tried to intervene. There is still a bruise on his right side from the last ‘boxing match,’ not much of a contest, but you couldn’t say at twelve he was not game for a couple of rounds with the old man if it meant his mother might get some peace from the animal. Angelica, he would name his first daughter after her, she had been born for a better life than the one she had endured until that fateful day.
His first tear runs from his eye to leave a trail through the dirty face of a boy from Roma. He is descended from Ancient Mighty Hero’s and Great General’s that’s what his mother had told him proudly, stroking his dirty cheek with her small gentle hand.
But he will not carry the name of a man he hated, he will name himself something like… Garrick… Aquilla, wow, now that was a name you could be proud of.
Having remembered a book he had read once in the library, though modestly schooled his mind was sharp and curious, a gift for languages, always useful with tourists, sure it was Old English, that little island of Britannia to the north of his Province called Stato Europeo that had also built an ancient empire.
Garrick meaning; Leads with a Spear or Mighty Spear Warrior. Smiling to himself puffing out his flat chest, wincing a little at his sore ribs and Aquilla his native tongue for Eagle, the noblest of Great Raptors and his Mothers Family name. An honourable name. His new name when he enlists, it had always been a custom to choose a new name if you volunteer to be posted to the stars. 'A stella imperiale legionario.'
That is where his destiny leads and he will embrace it with both arms, and march against the modern barbarians on the edge of his empire. The stone wall that protects them is the blood and bones of men and women sworn to serve Humanity and defend it with their Oaths of Fealty. The Imperial Star Legions, the bulwark of the Empire.
But that was long in the past. His service completed on his dishonourable discharge!
Where is the God of his Mother? When he defended the innocent and convicted by the corrupt, the cancer ran deep in some places within his covert branch of the military. He was just an asset with a conscience.
How did that work out God...Yeah thought so! His Mothers all powerful divine dispenser of justice...A bit lacking in genuine conviction if you ask me! Maybe if he actually believed that might of helped. But the cynic in him thought it just didn't apply to him. No one was willing to get involved. Just not worth the grief for them.
Though she was worth it! To rescue her. To keep her safe. To marry her. Two children a gift he still thinks are the real miracle. I know my mother would have loved you as I do. But...
Would she still love the man he had finally become.
The antithesis of everything she believed in. Of peace and order, and upholding the law. An honourable decent humane person. How many has he killed as first a soldier then as a mercenary, and now as what! A Pirate without the romance just the gritty hard reality of survival. He had a choice and he chose the wrong path. Given the chance of redemption he would sell his soul to be something different. Maybe that's the point, he has sold it. His eyes are wet, he blames the cold but in his heart he knows the truth. He has forsaken his Oath, and there will be hell to pay on the day of judgement. His Mother, the one person that actually loved him unconditionally from his birth, her fate the same as his young siblings to die a tragic death at the hands of a man who went to church every Sunday. Every mans friend, and his families nightmare.
Someone oblivious to their welfare. A cruel, callous selfish brute.
Damn him, damn him, damn him to death…
Has he become his father, a criminal prepared to destroy the crew of the vessel he is hidden within. To kidnap an innocent girl and send her to an unknown fate? How can I look my family in the face and explain their happy future has been bought at the expense of another’s misery.
Where had it all gone wrong… why is he stood here?
A traitor to his binding words.
There is only shame…He is not worthy of the boy with so many dreams as he stood longingly looking into a star filled sky through the high windows of the Gymnasium.
Thank you, God. Thanks an awful lot…