0032 – Leftenant Faulkner: A Good Man, Part 1

The occupation of Dark Hollow had proved, all told, staggeringly simple. The army had arrived during some local festival or other, and this had meant that every man of fighting age was away when the subjugation had begun. The armoury had been virtually empty, most of its weaponry having been taken with the hunting men, with but a few broken spears left behind in an empty smithy.

The hunters had returned to find that the Centurion had arranged their wives and children in uniform ranks at the edge of the village, a Regulan soldier neatly positioned behind each one. The unspoken threat had been enough to make even the most rowdy and intoxicated of them lay down arms and surrender.

Thus, the forces of Regula had taken control of the village with no casualties, which was exactly how Leftenant Faulkner liked it.

Faulkner considered himself a good man, in that he had no love of cruelty. As a Regulan, he had been raised to consider compliance and uniformity to be the chief virtues of civilization, and while the onset of his thirties had stirred in him the usual cynicism of an ageing man, he was a believer. He really did believe that the endless standardisation of the Pax Regulana would bring – if nothing else – equality, true equality, to the common man and woman.

Fortunately for Faulkner, his immediate superior, Captain Perrin, was not a cruel man either. He was, however, something of a zealot. He would certainly not have approved of Faulkner’s smoking, which was why Faulkner generally found himself twitching in anticipation of a much-needed cigarette for sizeable portions of his day.

One of the benefits of being part of the small detachment left behind to guard a hamlet as underpopulated as Dark Hollow was that there were plenty of empty houses to commandeer. In fact, there had been so many that even some of the lower ranks had been able to grab one. Every Optio (and even some of the more assertive rank and file) found themselves housed in conditions more befitting of a Captain, and this had done wonders for morale, even if the downtrodden Auxiliaries sat muttering and complaining in their tents.

The best thing about this, Leftenant Faulkner considered, was that he now had a nice, comfortable, indoor office to cloud up with smoke. The mountain of paperwork that sat on the repurposed desk in front of him had resulted in a thicker cloud than ever. Regula was big on paperwork.

Faulkner’s dextrous fingers flicked through the myriad pages. Some of them were stained with dirt and mulch. All of them had indigo stains from the tiny, ceaseless spores that permeated the air of the dark, mushroom-forested valley, referred to by Regulans as “The Shroud.” Since paperwork processed in Regula’s vast, Byzantine bureaucracy could be invalidated for being even mildly dirty, this left him with the unfortunate task of copying every single page out onto a clean sheet of paper.

He thought that was stupid, so he decided to get someone else to do it.

Faulkner pushed open the door to his office, which had previously been an abandoned study of some kind or other. He couldn’t read Agarthan, so he had no idea what the former occupant’s few remaining papers and books had pertained to. Tobacco smoke billowed out from the open doorway and began to settle against the ceiling of the little house’s outer rooms. He cursed under his breath, glad that none of his subordinates – well, none of his human subordinates – were around to see.

As a Leftenant in the Regulan Army, Faulkner was not technically entitled to his own personal golem, but the thing’s motionless, unblinking presence always made Captain Perrin uneasy – so he always found some excuse to have it on effectively permanent secondment to his subordinate. Faulkner usually had no idea what to do with the damn thing.

He clicked his fingers in front of the stationary golem’s face. Nothing happened for a good few seconds, until its absurdly slow synapses fired into reluctant action, causing it to turn its head, and lower it considerably, looking directly at Faulkner.

“Yeeeeeeeees?” The golem creaked. He had never been sure that it worked correctly. Centurion Montgomery’s seemed much quicker witted than this.

“Can you write?” Faulkner asked. The fact that he was so much shorter than the golem always aggravated him. He was so much shorter than everyone, but the impressive machine, built for subjugation, was particularly tall.

“Nooooooooo.” The golem replied.

“Alright, well…” Faulkner trailed off as he thought, taking a drag of the cigarette which he had unconsciously taken with him from the smoky office. “Can you draw?”

“Nooooooooo.”

He was getting annoyed now. You had to be so bloody literal with golems.

“Can you copy? Shapes? Pictures? With a pen?”

He could practically hear the thing thinking. It took so long about it that he’d taken three full, hurried drags before it was able to compose a response. Ash tipped carelessly onto the floor.

“Proooooobably.” That was all he was going to get.

“Oh for goodness’ sake.” Faulkner lost patience. He reached up behind the golem’s head – a motion which it only allowed on account of its secondment to him – and flicked open the tiny catch that released the whole front of its face. It fell away like an opening trapdoor supported by a hinge on the chin.

Inside the cavernous, empty space of the golem’s head was a tiny slip of paper, which said, in Faulkner’s agitated, spidery handwriting: “GUARD.”

He moved back to his desk, scrawling “COPY ALL PAGES TO YOUR LEFT ONTO CLEAN PAPER.” This ought to do it.

The slip was inserted in place of the old one, and the face panel swung shut with a satisfying click.

“Okay.” Faulkner commanded. “Get to it.”

The golem scrabbled in the air to its left, grasping at imaginary papers. This motion caused it to punch its rocky fist directly through a wall.

Faulkner hit his own forehead.

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