by Chris Cook

In the darkness, Commander Warfield lay awake, her mind wandering from thought to thought, casually sorting through memories and dreams with no pressing purpose. She stood, careful not to disturb the sleeper beside her, and crossed her quarters to where a steelglass window looked out across the night between the stars. She passed her armour, safe in its silent maintenance chamber. So tiny as to be invisible, microprobes crawled across it, checking and repairing the power suit molecule by molecule. Stephanie looked out of the window, absently tightening her robe against the slight chill in the air, the ship's night.

In the distance, hovering motionless in space, the dark frame of a spacedock teemed with life. Twenty-four solar hours a day the technicians and engineers worked, their current task a new heavy cruiser, the second Castalia. The loss of the original, now months ago, had been met not with sorrow, but determination that the ship would fly again, a phoenix rising ever more powerful from its own ashes. Stephanie had come to consider this, in a way, a fundamental part of the human race. They had struggled up from their own world and their own mistakes, rising to meet the galaxy head-on and accepting every challenge that was thrown their way. And when the galaxy crushed them down they came back stronger and more determined not to disappear quietly into the night.

She thought back, to the countless forgotten battles that had been fought on nameless worlds not for glory or power, but simply to live one day longer. Whether the invaders in the skies had been the ungainly hulks of Ork siege craft, the manta-like Tyranid landers, or the warped shapes of chaos raiders, always they met simple, everyday people ready to put their lives between home and the darkness. For all the imperfections the human race had still to master, they had no equal in plain courage in the face of death. Every one, in their own way, could have the strength of the Emperor when everything was at stake.

The thought led Stephanie away from the distant past, into the present. There were so many now who relied on her, following her in the belief that she was leading them on a journey that, for all its dangers, was worth taking. Her chapter, of course, but also the thousands who were not warriors, not superhuman, but ordinary people willing to take the risk of defying the Imperium for the right to choose their own destiny, their own beliefs. So many people, such a responsibility. It was not an easy path to walk, knowing that so many thousands depended on her. She had wondered, many times in the past, whether she would be able to bear such a burden.

'I trust you,' said a voice from her mind, a memory rising. She turned slightly, to look at the sleeping figure behind her, and smiled faintly. Perhaps not an easy path, but one step at a time she followed it. For the thousands who believed, and for the only belief that had ever been worth fighting for.

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