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Fight or Flight (Short Story)

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Fight or Flight
Author Sandy Mitchell
Publisher Black Library
Collected in Crucible Of War

Cover Description

Ciaphas Cain's early years come to light as he fights alongside the Valhallan 12th Field Artillery on the world of Desolatia.


Having just been made a full Commissar, Ciaphas Cain arrives on the mining world of Desolatia IV to begin his service with the Valhallan 12th Field Artillery regiment who are part of a force eliminating an Ork raiding party. After settling into his easy (and nearly oxymoronic) role of likable Commissar, the Orks are eventually defeated, whereupon contact is lost with the Keffia task force fleet inbound to pick them up. Colonel Mostrue is unperturbed, but Cain's antenna sense the approach of Tyranids, and he advises Mostrue to keep the battery on full alert.

Cain's inkling proves correct when a minor splinter fleet of 100 hundred bio-ships arrives in-system and proceeds to invade the planet, where they destroy the other Valhallan Armoured force present on the planet. Cain's regiment holds fast in the face of Mycetic Spores until they are assaulted by a force of Gargoyles. Seizing this as his chance to escape to the spaceport, Cain has Jurgen dutifully drive him away from the base in a Scout Salamander. Cain's attempt at escape is foiled, however, as he runs into the main force of Tyranids moving to flank the Valhallans. Warning Mostrue to reposition the Hydra platforms, he and Jurgen flee back to the artillery fire-base, only to have the Salamander break down a short distance from the base, leaving Jurgen and Cain with the only option to run like hell. Just as Cain nears the fortifications Jurgen trips, only to be assaulted by a brood of Gaunts, whereas Cain has his forward route blocked off by a Hive Tyrant. Caught between the frying pan and the fire, Cain chooses the fight he has a chance in hell of winning and runs back to save Jurgen from the Gaunts. As he is doing so, the Tyrant and its bodyguards evaporate behind him under the guns of Hydra platforms, which leaves the Tyranids without a connection to the Hive Mind, and they retreat. Later, the Keffia fleet arrives and leisurely destroys the Hive fleet in orbit.

Cain's actions have (inadvertently) saved the battery from destruction, and he passes off his attempt to flee as a cleverly-disguised reconnaissance sweep. To his embarrassment, he is also hailed as a hero by the rest of the troopers for risking his life to save Jurgen. Mostrue has his private doubts about both, but insists on assigning Cain an adjutant, as befits his hero status. Much to Cain's nose's disappointment, this turns out to be Jurgen.


Desolatia IV; as the name suggests, a very barren world of (apparently) mostly desert and mountains. The action is centred around the base of the Valhallan 12th Field Artillery and it's immediate environs.


  • Ciaphas Cain - Commissar of the Imperial Guard, newly attached to the Valhallan Field Artillery and a man of extremely strong (and secretive) principle where his personal safety is concerned. Spends most of the story attempting to avoid danger (while leads to his being very aware and informed of the developing hostile situation) yet more-or-less accidentally ends up being the most heroic member of the regiment.
  • Ferik Jurgen - Gunner in the 12th, he is assigned first as Cain's driver and then as his aide.
  • Mostrue - Colonel of the 12th, appears somewhat suspicious of Cain.
  • Divas - subaltern (junior officer) and aide to Colonel Mostrue. Dedicated soldier and swiftly an admirer of Cain.