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The Heretic’s Screams: A Yule Tale

An old friend provides new purpose. For the Vocal+Assist December Prompt

By J. Otis HaasPublished 3 months ago 4 min read
Top Story - December 2023
The Heretic’s Screams: A Yule Tale
Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

After a full Terran decade of waging interstellar war against countless alien civilizations, Captain J4Y of the Imperial Navy was returning to Earth for Yule with a heavy heart. The Conquest had kept her away from home since receiving her commission, and she was looking forward to seeing her parents and old friends. There was also the question of reenlisting or applying to be repurposed.

The Empire of Humanity’s hunger for virilllium had taken her across the galaxy, speeding faster than light through subspace in search of the precious element. The cycle of invasion, subjugation, and harvest had provided her with a fulfilling life of adventure, but the whole squadron needed a rest, and so they raced back home. Her thoughts were nostalgic and bittersweet. Years ago, she’d had her first kiss on Yule Eve, during the ritual burning of the heretic, but that all felt like remembering someone else’s dream.

She hadn’t felt quite herself since her lover, a nameless assassin of the Vaporious Sect, had been incinerated on the battlefield by a pyrokenetic belonging to a slug-like alien race that wasn’t even supposed to have psychics among them. Captain J4Y had watched it all unfold on the command display of her ship in orbit above, and in her grief, had fired a bombardment killing 6,000 guardsmen, a dozen members of The Revengers chapter of space troopers, as well as countless insurgents, but had proven so demoralizing to the slugs that they had capitulated a Terran day later and the whole system was under The Empire’s control soon after.

Captain J4Y’s commanding officers had deemed her choice “unorthodox,” but “acceptable.” All this and more was on her mind as she pulled the ship into port on Holy Earth. The matter compiler had spit out a medal, awarded for another successful Conquest, which she didn’t attach to her command suit until right before disembarking. She’d never noticed it before, but war really did feel different when you lost something. Her sense of bereavement fought with her indoctrination as the livery pod sped above the snow-blanketed landscape to the place where she had grown up.

Herds below dug with shovel-like hooves through the powder, revealing the evergreen grass beneath it. Then the conglomeration of domes that made up her hometown came into view. The cows were clones, heavily genegineered to graze and produce year round, but otherwise unmodified. The community existed to produce a particular cheese granted solely to The Council of Terra by order of The Empress. Unauthorized possession of the cheese was criminal; unauthorized consumption: heretical. Her own parents were the latest in a long line of Inquisitors, officially on the lookout for heresy, but actually there to keep an eye on the cheese. As she was landing, she saw someone in a wide-brimmed hat astride a horse, waving to her from a field.

Her luggage followed her out of the livery pod as she made her way through the center of town, pausing to admire the Yule tree, blazing with FauxFire and crowned with a resplendent holo of The Empress, who had not been seen in a thousand years, but whom The Council assured all citizens remained youthful, beautiful, and vibrant in her meditative seclusion. The sound of a horse approaching at a gallop made her turn.

The person in the wide-brimmed hat dismounted and began shouting a greeting as she ran at Captain J4Y. “Glory to The Empress! Virillium is the…,” as they paused for breath, J4Y saw that it was K4Y, her best friend from Education, whose cow-farming parents lacked the connections necessary to obtain her an official appointment, and so had remained herding cattle on Earth. They laughed as they saw each-other and embraced, completing The Creed in unison, “Virillium is the divine birthright of all Terrans. Those who oppose The Holy Conquest will be added to The Throne of Corpses! Glory to The Empress!” K4Y’s horse was well trained and stomped in approval upon hearing the familiar words.

They held onto each other as the laughter subsided, offering “it’s good to see yous” and “I missed yous.” For children with such different futures in store for them they had been inappropriately close, sharing in many firsts, from the firing of plasma rifles, to the birth of a calf, to various other things. Emboldened by their class differences, they’d sometimes recited The Creed together while eating pilfered cheese. The captain felt like she was home, and her thoughts turned again to repurposing.

The Assassin had smelled like blood or sanitizing solution during their encounters, but this old, special friend smelled like cow shit, and as the aromas of dung and horse mingled with the sappy, piney scent of the Yule tree, the captain found something intoxicating about the earthy innocence of it all.

“During my last weekly interrogation your mother said you might be coming back,” K4Y said, adding, “You look real good in that uniform. Lotta medals on there,” with a hint of shyness.

“Will I see you at the burning of the heretic tonight?” asked the captain, coyly.

“You will certainly see me at the burning of the heretic tonight,” came the bold response.

As they embraced again, K4Y pressed a small wheel of cheese into J4Y’s palm, both of their thoughts turning to how the heretic had screamed while they’d shared their first kiss.

Sci Fi

About the Creator

J. Otis Haas

Space Case

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  2. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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Comments (8)

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  • real Jemaabout a month ago

    Hi, lets subscribe to each other

  • Heresy! Heresy! But ever so tasty on both lips & tongue.

  • Novel Allen2 months ago

    Different and unorthodox, but totally enjoyable. Great read.

  • River Joy2 months ago

    This was incredibly unique and a really wonderful and unique take on the prompt!

  • Kathy J Anderson2 months ago

    Such an absurd premise for this story but totally enjoyable!

  • D. A. Ratliff3 months ago

    Can find those "Hallmark" moments anywhere! Imaginative story!

  • Oooo, this was such a unique and creative take on the prompt! Wonderful story!

  • Gerard DiLeo3 months ago

    Very, very clever and generous in dropping the cultural imaginatives!

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