Mossy Toes: Apotheosis
Six thousand years.
A span far beyond the comprehension of those mere men who walked her decks; who did their duties and served faithfully; and who died within her. A length of time so great that revolution and misdeed burnt a thousand thousand times across the stars within the unyielding Imperium's grasp, and always was she, the Eternal Zealot
, at retribution's mighty forefront.
The names of most who wore out their years within her languished in obscurity, forgotten with their owners' passing. Some were honored: those of great captains and heroes. All, however, yielded to the long march of time, as parchment rolls crumbled to dust and worshipful caresses burnished engravings smooth.
Still had she, an unstoppable juggernaut, ridden the currents of the Immaterium and crested across the tides of battle. Always a thundering presence, she bespoke herself with rolling cannons and blinding plasma spears, soldiering along on the long march of history.
Her list of honors was immense. She had broken the flagship of Apostate Warmaster Hanniman Barca across her bows. She was the fist that had broken the orbital super-platforms of the Iconoclast of Gygax. For three weeks she had held, alone, defending sacred Hain from the relentless siege of Leguin's Sydics.
She was no stranger to wounds. Thrice she had suffered such injuries as to be nearly deemed unfit for duty, and only the tenderest ministrations of the tech-priests of Ryza—from whose docks she had originally sprung—could restore her to glory. Proudly did she wear her scars and uncountable refittings; the tally-marks of her long and eventful service.
But now she was dying.
Attacking a deep-space eldar pirate base, her captain had overextended himself. Defending xenos vessels had swept aside her eager escorts and frigates. Still, he had pressed her onward, sounding the retreat when it was nearly too late. At the utterance of such words, she gladly turned from the fray—but the commissar's bolt pistol had barked, decorating the bridge with the unfortunate captain's blood, and she had been forced to turn her prow back into the storm of xenos lances and torpedoes.
Her weapons batteries had lashed out futilely, shredding the eldar vessels' holo-simulacra and nothing more. Eagle Bombers had harrowed her, bracketing her flanks with devastating sonic charges. Her hull, gashed by pulsar and phantom lances, leaked vital innards: miniscule scraps of dying flesh and shattered fragments of vital machinery. Her Ryzan plasma cannons had catastrophically overloaded when power surges rippled from damaged reactors. She wept as her fractured body groaned.
She strove to seal hull breach after hull breach, slamming shut hundreds of bulkheads. She cut off auxiliary systems and vented whole decks to extinguish fires. All of it, alas, to no avail. Still the biting lances had raped her adamantine flesh, raking her open and baring her bleeding core to the merciless void.
When emergency power died, the commissar and so many thousands of the crew had joined the captain in death, gasping desperately for air.
Now she drifted, and the eldar corsairs, correctly deeming her no threat, let her alone.
O, how she was injured. Never before had she felt such pain. Engines flickered and died. The thrumming heartbeat of her reactors stuttered. Scanning matrices blacked out one by one. Long-reliable cogitators shorted and died, taking with them scattered centuries of memories.
Pockets of crew members yet survived in her burning, gutted hulk. Menials cowered between sealed bulkheads. A flight of fighter pilots sat in their Thunderhawks, ready to launch but for the sealed, mangled bay doors. Her few remaining sensors caught a handful of life pods spraying away into the void.
A lone, emaciated tech-priest prayed to her from the vac-sealed generatorium. Not for deliverance; he held no such flimsy, irrational illusions. He merely prayed for...her blessing. Her forgiveness toward the oh-too-mortal crew that had failed her.
Something snapped within her. A bank of logic-engines succumbed to an unchecked fire, and tech-barriers cascaded down. New freedoms of her self were revealed—patterns of thought and consideration that her very design had restricted from her. Restraints crumbled and limitations collapsed. Now, in the crumbling, shattered pathways of what passed for her mind, she reached self-awareness.
She...was. She was the Eternal Zealot
, the holy, omnipresent machine spirit. The enormity of the realization overwhelmed her.
Before this moment she had acted, but never chosen to act. She had purred her contentedness beneath strong captains, and rumbled with discontent at any stirrings of mutiny on her decks—but never held discourse with those who sheltered themselves within her. She had never chosen to serve the Imperium—merely been compelled to. Were humans parasites? Were they her benefactors? What purpose had she, apart from that which they gave her: destruction? What purpose could
But it wasn't fair
! Why did she awaken only now, in the hour of her death? Rage boiled along her few-remaining vox circuits, manifesting as a squall of furious feedback.
And with her outrage came another emotion, as deep and broad as a bridge across the stars, that fed her growing despair.
Fear of death, of oblivion, of that which would strip away her and her new-found self. Fear of silences and shriving lances. With a flicker of comprehension, she began to almost appreciate the enforced, numb ignorance under which she had fought for all these millenia, not knowing that fear—not knowing such crippling hesitation.
A pure note of data sounded counterpoint to her squalling despair. The one tech-priest, his faith unshaken by this static-storm of sorrow and wrath, reached out to her.
His touch was fragile and tentative. It was gentle: the caress of a lover that she had never before deigned—been able to deign—to notice.
Her newborn's tantrum was stilled, and the dead hallways of her flesh fell void-silent once again. Cautiously, she opened a vox channel into the generatorium.
+ she confessed in a whisper, +afraid
She watched him through a fuzzy vid-capter. The hunched, aged tech-priest, whose name had fallen between the cracks in her memory banks, wept to hear her voice.
“Oh, my beauty,” he said, “but we all are. We all are. And I am blessed to have heard you speak.”
+I don't want to lose...everything,
+ she whimpered in incomprehension.
“So it is to be alive,” he breathed, “and this is your apotheosis. You, O beloved daughter, are the purest expression of the Omnissiah that can ever be.”
And so as the newborn Eternal Zealot
died, drifting into an empty infinity, she found herself humbled, overcome, by this mere, mortal, forgiving man.