Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer
The room is full. The courtyard is too. They’ve put up holoscreens in the grounds for those who couldn’t get in.
General Perkiss gestures for me to come up front.
“Warriors, I can’t end this memorial. It wouldn’t be right. Major Cyo Surtees will.”
He steps back and bows to me.
I step up to the lectern and look about. So many units. So many species. I know where to start.
“He’d have loved this, and we all know he’d have whinged about the security arrangements rather than admit it.”
That gets a lot of smiles.
“I first met Ambassador Falor Krato when he was only Sergeant Krato. A Captain named Perkiss assigned him to the idiot son of a senator who signed up to do real war.”
I nod to the General, who grins. It was a long time ago.
“That idiot was me. If not for Krato, I’d have been dead within a week.”
There are nods of sympathy. He saved a lot of idiots so they could become soldiers.
“We were on Abingdon Hill. The Vatril were coming down like rain. I was terrified. Then this huge noncom in rusty power armour stomped up and offered me a bottle of scotch. ‘These things you don’t face sober, and you don’t fight them while you can still see straight.’” I grin: “I spent my first battle staggering drunk while killing transdimensional crustacea, thanks to Krato.”
Looking down at the floor, I run through the speech I had prepared. What was I thinking? Krato would heckle me for trying. I look up.
“I had a witty speech prepared. Then his memory sat up and punched me. I’ll be doing him an injustice if I don’t wing it.”
The scattered laughter is good to hear.
“You’ve all got memories of him. If we had time, I’d have liked for each of you to come and tell your favourite. As is, there’s only me up here to finish. So, I’ll share the one that’s stayed with me for ninety years.”
Longevity treatments and military service: a match made in some cold hell. But Krato liked them. The knee injury he took on Rosso got more painful as he got older. The rejuvenations helped.
“It was after the fall of Saliz. The Vatril hives had imploded. Several hours after the battle, I couldn’t find Krato. So I went looking. Took me until nearly dawn, then I heard this screaming. I’ve never heard the like, before or since. I raced down into the gorge behind the capitol hive. That’s where I found him. He was in the middle of a huge circle made of landing flares. In the purple glow, I could see him standing there, a body in his arms.
“I rushed in. He looked at me like I was a stranger, then fell down, but didn’t let the body go. ‘I promised him we’d go together, Cyo. Like we always did. The stupid little bastard got heroic when a Vatril berserker came for us. Swallowed a handful of Edlith and threw himself under the mandibles. Told me I’d be better at soldiering without him. Made me promise.’ His expression was haunted: ‘I still don’t want to do it without him’.
“I talked him down. We buried the body. I walked him back to camp, then got drunk with him. He served eighty-five years to honour that promise. Tomorrow, I’ll be heading back to Saliz. I’m fulfilling the promise I made to him that night. I’m taking him to rest next to Romul Krato, his big brother.”